Remember those butterflies in your stomach you felt on the first day of school? Foster children often feel, them, too, and they can be even more intense for kids starting a new school. Add that to the challenges of becoming part of a new family and it’s a lot to handle, especially for a young child who’s just learning how to manage emotions. Although it’s unavoidable—and normal–to feel some stress about school, you’ll want to help your child be as calm and confident as possible and succeed in school, and the tips below can help you do that.
Establish a Morning Routine
Mornings are hectic, and frantic searches for books, shoes, and jackets can mean your child arrives at school already stressed out. That’s where having a solid, simple routine can make things easier. Start the night before: Choose an outfit for the next day and make sure backpacks and lunches are ready to go. In the morning, make sure your child knows what tasks need to be completed. A simple list with reminders to brush teeth and make up the bed comes in handy. To help children who struggle with time management, set a kitchen timer to mark when it’s time to move from getting dressed to eating breakfast, for example.
Handling After School Meltdowns
At pick-up time, you may be discouraged to find your elementary-age child is sad or frustrated and cries or acts out after school. Those tantrums are normal, though, and they’re not a bad thing. Known as restraint collapse, they signal that a child has been trying to manage emotions and behaviors all day to meet classroom expectations. By the time they get home, they may be emotionally exhausted, and they need to vent their frustrations in a safe place. So, those meltdowns mean tired kids know they’re safe enough at home to “be themselves”—and that’s a good thing!
Once your child has had a chance to unwind, it’s time to tackle homework assignments. Here again, routine can help: Kids may be more motivated if they know that homework must be completed before dinner or before a “reward” like watching television can occur. In addition, be sure you have a dedicated “homework spot” where your child has all the needed supplies and few distractions.
Make Time for Play
Once all the work is done, make sure you incorporate time into each day for unstructured play. It may be tempting to enroll a child in several “enrichment” activities after school, but getting shuttled from school to sports practice or music lessons too often just adds to kids’ stress levels. More importantly, research continues to show the benefits of unstructured play on children’s development, particularly if they can spend time outdoors. Downtime helps foster creativity and problem solving, and it also gives a much-needed sense of freedom after a busy day.
Finally, remember that you’re not alone in facing challenges with helping kids succeed in school. At TFI, we’re committed to supporting foster families, so please reach out to us with questions or concerns.