For many of us, back to school means shopping for new clothes, backpacks, and other supplies. For others, it’s the excitement of reconnecting with friends and meeting new teachers. But for kids in foster care, the start of a new school year can be yet another difficult transition. Separation anxiety can be a very real struggle for children in foster care, due to past trauma and their growing attachment to you.
For children and teenagers in foster care, a new school year can be overwhelming and may include some unique challenges, including navigating a new building, learning new rules and a new routine, meeting new teachers and administrators, and making new friends. For high school students, it also means preparing for independence and the transition to employment or college.
According to Camelot Care Centers, here are a few things you can do to help smooth the transition back to school.
Mentally Prepare Them
As the new school date approaches, remind your foster child how many days are left of summer. Talk to them about opportunities available to them, such as different elective classes to take or after-school sports to join. Plan for them to participate in after-school activities, but don’t over-book their schedule either; remember their schoolwork should still be the priority.
Give Them Choices
Invite your foster child to go school shopping with you. Let them know the budget for certain items, such as a backpack or school clothing, then let them pick out what they want. Allowing your foster child to exercise independence helps them feel included and excited about the fresh start.
Teach Them The Routine
Show your foster child how to make simple breakfast items like preparing a bowl of cereal for breakfast. If you foster a teenager, they can make their own scrambled eggs or other small meals. Show them where they can find lunch choices and teach them how to build their own lunch. Consider keeping a bin in the fridge with multiple snack options, such as yogurt or applesauce, so your foster child can help make their own lunch the evening before. Also remind them to pick out their outfits and pack up their homework the evening before, so that the morning routine can go as smooth as possible.
Revive Their Old Sleep Schedule
Most kids tend to stray off their sleep schedule during the summer months. This is especially true of teenagers, as their bodies biologically want them to stay up later and sleep in. Start sending your foster child to bed earlier at least a week before school starts. There may be a few “off” days while their bodies adjust back to the routine. Starting that routine in advance will ensure they are properly rested for that first day back.
Set Clear Boundaries
Set clear boundaries and expectations by writing out a schedule for your foster child. Be sure to post it on the refrigerator or a wall in a central location. Remind them of consequences for not following through, such as losing video game or cell phone privileges.
While going back to school brings many challenges, there are several things you can do to ease the transition. Excite your foster child with new back-to-school supplies and clothing, set a daily routine, get their sleep schedule back on track, and teach them consequences for their actions when they don’t follow through. With a few simple steps, you can help set your foster child off to a great school year.