5 Tips for Busting Back to School Anxiety
1. Let them have school supplies.
School supply shopping is so much different now that it was when we were in school. Many schools have a fee that covers the school providing supplies. There are also countless options to buy online, order prepackages supplies specific to your school’s needs, click and collect at local stores, and the traditional grab the list and head to your nearest store. However your family chooses to acquire the needed tools for this school year, let your child explore them at home. I remember reorganizing my school box and backpack 983 times in the days leading up to the first day of school (which was after Labor Day if that gives you an idea of how old I am).
Being able to rifle through the items gave me a way to mentally prepare for the year ahead. For the new classroom, new teacher, old friends, new expectations, and many times in my life completely new school. Allowing your child to have an active role in preparing for the the upcoming school year will give them a way to process what is coming up, and will provide and avenue of communication for anything they’re worried about, anticipating, or excited about in this new adventure.
2. Say the right things.
Children have their own set of feelings around heading back to school after a summer full of fun. Make sure to talk through those feelings with them without brushing them to the side. Use curious vocabulary and open ended questions.
Try saying things like:
“I wonder what your class will be like this year. How are you feeling about going back to school?”
“What are you most excited about for this new school year?”
“Is there anything about going back to school that is making you nervous?”
“Let’s problem solve some ways to handle [insert what your child said they were nervous about] if it comes up.”
Things parents say when they mean well, but don’t always deliver their intended meaning:
“You will make so many new friends!”
This can be overwhelming to children who are introverted or have trouble making new friends. Promising success to them can make children feel like they will disappoint you if they aren’t able to report back with a successful venture.
“You’re going to going to have to work harder this year, there’s going to be a lot more homework.”
Your kids likely know this year will be more challenging than last year, and it is probably something they have already ruminated on in their own head. Reminding them of this and adding pressure to the thought isn’t helpful.
3. Keep your complaining away from the kids.
Parents tend to have a lot of feelings attached to their kids going to school. Whether its disbelief that their baby is already in kindergarten/6th grade/high school, or disappointment in their classroom assignment/administration/classroom protocol. Most of the time problems that parents have with the upcoming school year are actually trivial in the grand scheme of their child’s school career. So whether its unhappiness that your child wasn’t placed with the teacher you specifically wrote to the school and requested, or how your child’s school is handling the mask policy this year keep your complaints to yourself, your significant other, or a trusted group of parent friends. Your feelings and opinions do not necessarily reflect your child’s feelings and opinions. Hearing these negative comments just adds to a list of things your children don’t need to worry about.
4. Understand and recognize behavior changes.
Big feelings can have big reactions, and sometimes those big reactions come at a time that seems like it is in no way associated with the big feelings catalyst. For instance, our youngest gets excited (and a bit nervous) about going back to school, and does the most Ace Ventura Pet Detective things with his body. He walks through the house contorting himself as if Jim Carrey has inhabited a 10 year old’s body, and will require a formal exorcism to remove. Not gonna lie, I hate it. So we have adopted this conversation, “Your body is showing me that you’re really excited. Please work on controlling your body, and let’s think of another way you can show us how excited you are.”
Your child may have increased meltdowns, be overly active, have everything to say, or may want to eat one of everything in the house. If your child is doing something that is attention seeking or could potentially get them in trouble in the weeks leading up to school, pause and consider whether this action could be a manifestation of how they’re feeling about the upcoming change to their life and schedule. This is a perfect situation to help them label their emotions, and learn effective ways to handle them in the future.
5. Practice your new routine.
It is almost guaranteed the start of this school year is going to bring about a whole new routine for your family. Whether this will be your child’s first time back at school since Spring Break 2020 or you’re yanking the whole family out of summer life, you will all have some adjusting to do. Have your whole family start going to be at their school year bedtime, getting up with an alarm clock, getting dressed, and eating breakfast as they would on a school day. Explain to your child that everyone in the house has a new routine to get used to so they won’t feel alone or singled out in the change. Practice the drive to school or walk to the bus stop so your kids can get used to getting out of the house on time and will be familiar with the route. Let your child lay out their clothes the night before so getting dressed in the morning won’t be an entire ordeal. Have them help pack their lunch or decide ahead of time which school lunch option they will choose. You know your family and routine better than anyone, identify the aspects of you child’s home routine that will be changing the most and let them be a part of the change.