As we approach the new school year, parents and children are experiencing the mixed emotions of this transitional time. While many children may be excited to reconnect with friends and meet their new teachers, some children feel anxious about attending a new school, an increased academic load, or reacclimating socially. Also, parents may feel stressed about ensuring their children are set up for a successful school year. Below you will find tips on how to best prepare yourself and your children to ease into the exciting and emotional return to school!
Tip #1 Highlight the Good
Children’s anxiety about the new school year often overshadows positive memories from years past. General statements of encouragement like “It will be great!”, may not be effective. Instead, try asking your child to identify specific things they enjoyed about years prior. Helping your child recall positive aspects of school such as friends they missed over the summer, new school privileges this year, or activities they enjoy may help decrease stress and negative thoughts.
Prompts to try with your children:
- What did you miss about school during the summer? Recess with friends? Art class?
- What are you looking forward to? Getting a break from your siblings? Playing a new sport? Switching classes for the first time?
Whatever your child missed or is looking forward to, make sure to make it part of your back-to-school conversations!
Tip #2 Listen to the Worries
Highlighting the good does not mean ignoring the worries! Issues that might seem small such as not having a close friend in class, not knowing where their locker will be, etc. can be real sources of anxiety for your child.
Instead of minimizing or dismissing these worries, listen to and validate your child’s feelings, and provide opportunities to process what is bothering them. Utilizing open-ended, non-judgmental questions facilitates discussion and makes it easier for children to name and share their worries. Having a conversation about worries before the year begins will give you a chance to dispel any myths and develop a plan to manage stress and anxiety.
This article by the Child Mind Institute provides guidance on navigating your child’s anxiety and worries.
Tip #3 Confirm School Year Details & Do a Trial Run
When listening to your child’s worries, be sure to help your child feel prepared by confirming they have as much information about their new school year as possible. Make sure your child is aware of their teachers, class schedule, and any changes from their previous routine. In addition to confirming these details, for some children with anxiety or past school refusal, it may be beneficial to have a trial run before the first day of school. Drive by their school building, remind them where they will enter or where recess takes place, and if possible, walk the hallways to become reacquainted with the space.
Trial runs are especially helpful for kids transitioning to a new school. These children likely had orientation before summer, but months have passed, and revisiting the school can help decrease the first day of school worries.
Tip #4 Check-in About Potential Friendship Shifts
Throughout the summer your child’s friendships likely shifted due to new interests, camp, vacations, and less shared time at school. Your child likely became closer with some friends and more distant from others. Being able to share friends, have friends overlap, and accept growing apart from a friend are skills that come with time. These shifts can be challenging and painful to navigate for children. Recognize that when your child verbalizes friendship stress, it rarely needs fixing. Children often just want parents to validate their feelings and say, “I know that what you’re going through is hard”.
When school starts, be careful about asking “Did you make any friends?” when your child comes home from school. This can be shaming for kids who are struggling to figure out where they fit in. Instead focus on neutral questions such as, “How was your day?” or “Tell me two things you liked about your day”.
Tip #5 Evening To-Do List
The best way to decrease your morning stress in the first weeks of school is to create a checklist you will use each school night. Have a family meeting to collaborate on the list so that everyone can contribute. Be sure to keep the list accessible for everyone to see!
Examples of tasks include:
- Preparing lunch
- Setting the alarm clock
- Packing backpacks
- Pick out an outfit
- Ensuring breakfast foods are on hand
Tip # 6 Gradual Bedtime Reset
Switching from summer hours to early bedtimes and wakeup times is often the toughest part of the back-to-school routine. However, we know that a good night’s sleep is one of the fundamentals to staying healthy and keeping stress levels down during the transition and throughout the year. Using the last couple weeks of summer to get into a “school day rhythm” is a great way to prepare for starting school.
Tip #7 Screen Time Adjustments
Though it may be difficult, setting screen time limits and expectations is crucial. Screens can be addictive and distracting, so it’s a good idea to start adjusting your child’s viewing habits before the academic year begins. Creating a schedule of the amount of screen time permitted before and after school hours is difficult to do, but consistent expectations for screen time decrease conflict and power struggles in the long run.
Tip #8 Move that Body
Physical movement and exercise are wonderful for lifting a child’s mood and decreasing stress. Incorporating a routine of some form of physical activity within your day is setting yourself and your child(ren) up for a happier and healthier life. For those who are not naturally athletic or don’t enjoy activity as much, this may be more difficult. However, kids don’t need to love it. Kids are expected to do many other things they don’t enjoy, such as household chores and homework. A certain amount of activity and exercise should be required since it’s part of our overall health and wellness. And parents are the ones that need to model this first. If you include your kids in your activities, or if you at least model, “I’m going for a walk around the neighborhood,” or “Let’s ride bikes to the park,” then you are showing them an essential part of living.
Tip #9 Spend Time in Nature
Nature provides many lifelong benefits across physical health, mental health, and academic ability. Our natural environment and outdoor play can reduce stress, increase confidence, and promote creativity. Now is the perfect time to get yourself and your family outside to enjoy the last few weeks of Summer and the approaching cooler Fall weather. Go for a hike. Connect with the outdoors. Heal with nature.
Tip #10 Recognize and Manage Your Own Stress & Anxiety
It is important to show our children how to work through stressful situations. Utilizing self-care during this transitional period is imperative. Remember, some things CAN wait. Yes, it is important to get all the necessary school supplies prior to school starting. However, know that some of that can wait until after school has begun. Relax, take your time, and know that not every item has to be checked off your list before that first day of school.
These are just a few strategies to help our children (and ourselves) start a new school year. Always remember that just being present, supportive, and loving IS enough.