We drive by the turn off to my sons school today as we run errands. He says he is nervous about school starting. Yesterday he asked to look at his kindergarten class picture. I ask what he is nervous about. He wonders which teacher he will have. He hopes he gets the boy teacher. We talk about school lunches, classmates, the principal and his adored kindergarten teacher, Ms Penny. It is that time of year. Back to school sales are being broadcasted everywhere you look. Many of us are feeling growing anxiety over transitioning back to school in the fall. Some of the anxiety may be anticipatory, “I can’t wait to have some mornings to myself again!” What ever your feeling are about it, the shift into more structure, a busier schedule, along with the changes that ‘back to school’ time brings (new teachers, new classmates, new material) can all lead to increased stress. So how do we handle this annual transition with grace? Here are five tips to reduce back to school stress in your kids, and in yourself:
Let’s face it — over the summer, most families take their cues from the sun and relaxed schedule, staying up later, sleeping in as long as possible. While it may be tempting to keep the late-night fun going up until the end, starting your school routine a couple weeks early can help ease the transition back to school. Start going to bed and getting up close to when you need to for school, and try to eat on a more regular schedule as well. This advice isn’t just for little kids — teens and adults need quality sleep for proper functioning as well, and getting your schedule straight now will help ensure that you all start the school year off well rested, more prepared and less anxious over that first day. If possible plan to take a little extra time off work that week. Especially if you have elementary age children, it can be helpful if they know you will be picking them up that first day, or be able to drop them off and see their classroom in the morning.
Visit the School:
If possible it’s a good idea to visit the school before the first day. For kids who are going to be first-timers for kindergarten, first grade, middle school, or even high school, this can help them feel more comfortable with the new place and get a better idea of where to go once they’re there. Even for returning students, it doesn’t hurt to know where their classroom is, say hello to whatever staff is there getting ready, and start getting excited about going back. Some schools have a clean up day, a back to school bbq, or other events that might help your child feel less anxious about heading back to school.
As most moms will tell you, nothing alleviates stress like a good shopping trip. While I say that half-joking, there’s some real truth in the idea that back to school shopping can help kids feel more invested in returning to school. If your child really couldn’t care less about shopping, you can make it quick and painless, but for kids who enjoy shopping, and making decisions of which clothes, backpacks and other supplies will be theirs this year, the back to school shopping trip can help them to feel prepared and more in control.
Along these lines, have fun preparing your child’s study area. It’s important to be sure that you child has a comfortable, quiet place to study (even for kindergarteners, most of whom have homework these days), and preparing that area can be exciting as school approaches. You may also want to get your routines ready; as you get back onto an earlier schedule, have your kids start laying out their clothes the night before, keeping their shoes by the door, and get back into other morning habits that help you get out the door with less hassle. This can help refine your routine, and make the back to school transition easier.
Talk about it:
One of the best ways to relieve back to school anxiety and prepare for the coming year is to simply talk to your child about what he or she may be feeling. You might ask about his favorite memories or favorite project from last year. Talk about the funniest thing that happened in his class. Reminisce about past field trips. Let your child tell you what’s exciting about school as well as what may be a little anxiety-provoking. If your child expresses some negativity about school, validate feelings, and ask questions to better understand the source of the negativity. Then you can help find solutions or shift the focus to a more positive one like seeing friends, covering exciting new material, and growing up. This can be an excellent time to discuss important topics like how to handle bullies, peer pressure, and other important topics. This can help your child feel more comfortable, and can help you clarify expectations and troubleshoot. Creating open lines of communication is always important, and letting your child know that you’ll be available for support and open discussions can be a crucial part of your relationship, as well as your child’s success in school.
Remember as you deal with back to school jitters, be as prepared as possible, and play up the fun stuff (friends, new supplies, great teachers and growing up). If you show your enthusiasm for what the new school year brings, your kids are sure to pick up on it, and the nervous energy will turn into excitement. Have fun!