Tips for Transitions at the Start of a New School Year

By Leanne Page, M.Ed, BCBA

bSci21 Contributing Writer

“Dear Behavior BFF, we are so stressed out in our home with the start of the school year and all the change that brings with it. My son is starting 1st grade, starting a new soccer team, moved up in the class at church- you name it! How can I help him during these transitions. We are all stressed!”

Change is hard. For everyone. I applaud you for working proactively to find some real solutions to help ease your son’s stress level during these big transitions.

Let’s just get straight to it and review some research-based strategies of behavior analysis that can help ease transitions for your son.


Priming (in a nutshell) is introducing new things ahead of time in order to create predictability by familiarizing your child with what is coming. It is a low demand situation with lots of positive reinforcement. For a new school year- go in and meet the teacher ahead of time, see the classroom, find out what friends are in the class. A new soccer team- go to the field and walk around, try on the uniform ahead of time, watch videos of kids playing soccer.  Read more about priming here and here.

Behavior Skills Training

Behavior Skills Training, or BST, takes it to a higher level. There are 4 steps to BST: instructions, modeling, rehearsal, and feedback. You teach your child the new expectations, then show them what to do. Have your child rehearse and role-play for you and give them lots of feedback. Practice until they’ve got it right. Starting a new church service- are there traditions or expectations during the service? Teach your child using BST how to sit, kneel, genuflect (when appropriate), you name it. Starting a new sport? Talk about the physical skills, model them, then practice at home with lots of feedback.

Learn more about BST here.  Behavior Skills Training is a super useful tool to have in your parenting tool belt!

Reinforcement for Appropriate Escape Behaviors

In a new situation, many of us have the inclination to want to get out of that situation. We are likely to only stay a little while when going to an event filled with unfamiliar faces.  As adults, we know how to get out of these situations by making polite excuses and a smooth exit.

Why not give our kids that same chance? Teach them how to ask nicely to only stay a little while. Show them how to let you know when they’ve had enough and could really use a break from the newness of all these transitions. And when they do tell you “I just need a minute”, then honor those appropriate requests. Let them escape- even just for a minute or two.

I’m not saying drop out of school, forget your commitment to the soccer team, and walk out in the middle of church. I AM saying- give them a minute to do something they prefer during church. Instead of sitting up straight and looking at the front, let them draw on a piece of paper, slouch down, fidget. Instead of volunteering to go first at soccer practice, let them hang back and kick at the air, lost in their own thoughts.

In any new situation, increase the positive reinforcement for all desired behaviors tenfold. Pair that new situation with this dense reinforcement to help your child succeed.  This season of transition doesn’t have to be a super stressful one. Instead let’s make it a season of reinforcement.

How have you successfully used positive reinforcement with your child’s behavior?  Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

Leanne Page, M.Ed, BCBA

Leanne Page, M.Ed, BCBA has worked with kids with disabilities and their parents in a variety of settings for over 10 years. She has taught special education classes from kindergarden-grade 12, from self-contained to inclusion. Leanne has also managed a center providing ABA services to children in 1:1 and small group settings. She has extensive experience in school and teacher training, therapist training, parent training, and providing direct services to children and families in a center-based or in-home therapy setting. Since becoming a mom, Leanne has a new mission to share behavior analytic practices with a population she knows needs it- all moms of littles! Leanne does through her site and through her book ‘Parenting with Science: Behavior Analysis Saves Mom’s Sanity”.  You can contact her at [email protected].

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