Smoothing the Back-to-School Transition from Home-to-Home

Goodbye summer, hello school! Words of dread for most kids because it means hello to more structure, routine and homework and goodbye to the long, lazy days of summer. For kids that spent the summer with their non-residential parent, it means an even bigger change in routine. The standard summer vacation for kids visiting their non-residential parent is four to six weeks, a big chunk of summer break. Change is hard. We tend to diminish how stressful it is for kids to change homes and adapt to the other parent’s home with different schedules, activities and rules. For kids that have to travel to a different city or state to visit their other parent, the change is more dramatic, but even for kids that stay in the same city, changing homes is a challenge. There are steps that parents can take to smooth the transitions and provide a good start to the beginning of another school year.


If your child’s other parent lives out of town, coming home to you means leaving the other parent and possibly stepparent, stepsiblings or half siblings. Recognize your child’s sadness and let her openly miss the family she is temporarily leaving behind. Frequent phone calls, texting, email, Skype time and other means of communication can ease the pain of separation and keep the relationships consistent.


Whether good or bad, your children may need to talk about the summer. Give them the opportunity to talk about their experiences and feelings without fear of emotional repercussions. They may feel a division of loyalties and feel guilty about having had a good time. Reassure them it is fine to love the other parent and have a good time when him or her with them. Don’t let your ego be your children’s problem. They may also need to vent about perceived injustices and grievances from the other home. Listen patiently and non-judgmentally. Remember, there is usually another side to every story. The exception would be suspected abuse. If this is the case, contact authorities.


Although it may be out of your control, at least a week between summer visitation and the beginning of school would be ideal to allow the child to prepare for the beginning of a new school year. According to Barbara Wright, a licensed professional counselor at Norman Behavioral Health Group, the longer the child has been away, the longer it will take for her to readjust. Wright points out that bedtime is an important change in routine that needs to be addressed gradually, moving bedtime back 15 minutes a night until the desired bedtime is reached. Wright states that elementary-age children need between 9 to 11 hours each night to perform their best. Rituals to prepare for the school year, such as back-to-school shopping and attending school orientation, may help ease your child’s anxieties.


We hear it over and over and for a very good reason, communication is essential to successful co-parenting. This doesn’t have to mean long, heart-to-heart chats with your ex but it does mean keeping him or her  updated on the details of your child’s life. The non-custodial parent should have access to the child’s school schedules and all extra-curricular activities. Even if he or she is out of state and has little chance of attending any events, the other parent needs to be informed. Especially if there is a problem, the non-custodial parent needs to be kept in the loop. Also, make sure you communicate with the school if there are custody issues that prevent a parent from accessing information or picking up a child.

Communication also extends to the child. It would be ideal if the rules at both parents’ homes were the same, but if that isn’t possible, Barbara Wright advises calmly explaining to your child that there are different sets of rules at each home and you understand that it’s difficult.


Get ahead of disputes with your ex by having a parenting plan. This is particularly important if the other parent is in the same city and involved in parenting on a regular basis. If possible, put aside your differences long enough to attend school orientations and parent-teacher conferences together so that information is equally shared. Discuss homework issues. Is your child self-reliant or will he need assistance? Once again, put aside your ego. For example, if your former spouse is a nuclear physicist, it makes sense she will be involved with the science fair project. If your child is involved in extracurricular activities, who will drive, who will pay the fees, will you both attend events? How involved will new partners be in the child’s school and activities? If your co-parent is cooperative, try to align bedtimes and other behavior expectations. It may be awkward to make a detailed plan with your ex, but it will prevent arguments and assist your child with smoother transitions between homes.


Acknowledge and respect your children’s feelings. Never deny their negative feelings even if they make you feel uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean your children get to whine incessantly, but respect the fact that it is tough to have to live in two homes and not have an intact family. Make sure they feel heard, but then move on to making the best of the situation. Be positive and optimistic in your words and actions.

Starting a new school year is fraught with change, which can bring on some fears and anxieties. But it is also packed with new adventures, possibilities and excitement. For a child with divorced parents, the transition may be a little more complicated, but you can help smooth the way by being prepared. It’s not always easy for the parents, either, but the reward for your compromise, planning and communication is a healthier, happier child.

Categories: Parenting