By Dana Harris
It’s easy to recognize the back-to-school jitters that emerge in children come August. Like all big transitions in life, the start of a new school year can be scary for kids. First day jitters are as much a part of each new school year as are shiny lunch boxes, new clothes, a new school and fancy new I-Phones. Its important to also bear in mind that a child’s reactions to school will differ from one kid to another, so it’s going to be critically important to show support and guidance. Let’s face it, going from the long, hot lazy summer days back to the relevance and rigor of a classroom can be quite a bumpy road for your child. But what’s less commonly understood are the anxieties that parents exhibit during this stressful transition period. For most moms, it’s the season for back-to-school shopping, returning to a regular sleep schedule, and making certain that the kids are finishing up those summer reading and math packets. Whether you are putting your firstborn on the bus to kindergarten, waving goodbye to your seasoned fourth grader or sitting down in the family room with your middle or high schooler sharing a few non negotiables regarding school, the days and weeks ahead may seem like a roller coaster ride if you haven’t established a few back-to-school rituals and routines. While reconnecting with classmates and meeting new teachers can be thrilling, the start of a brand-new school year can make even the most resilient students (and parents) nervous. Have no fear! With some smart planning, a positive attitude, and the right mindset, the following tips might be what you need to minimize those back-to-school jitters.
• Ease back into the routine. To help with back-to-school butterflies, try to ease kids into a consistent school night routine a few weeks before school starts. Switching from a summer to a school schedule can be stressful to everyone in the household. Avoid first-day mayhem by practicing your routine a few days or even weeks in advance. Set the alarm clock, go through your morning rituals, and get in the car or to the bus stop on time. Routines help children feel comfortable and establishing a solid school routine will make the first day of school go much smoother. Beyond re-establishing healthy bedtime and waking schedules, week-kept routines like homework, afterschool activities, and mealtimes can also help students focus on being prepared at school and help families get back into the swing of balancing academics and social lives. Research reveals that students who prepare in advance for the challenges of school have more positive emotions about school and perform better academically.
• Start adjusting schedules. As with any new or unsettling situation – like starting school for the first time or entering a new grade or new school – give kids time to adjust. Remind them that everyone feels a little nervous about the first day of school and that it will be an everyday routine in no time. The first day of school may be a few days (or weeks) away, but it’s never too early to start re-adjusting schedules back to an early mode to smooth the morning madness. This means switching from late-nights and sleeping into reasonable bedtimes and early rising. Don’t force it. Enjoy your last days of summer without insisting your kids wake up at school time. When it comes to sleep, everything will work itself out. Once school starts, just let their bodies naturally adjust to the new sleep schedule.
• Tool Up for Success. Obtain the class supply list and take a special shopping trip with your child. Having the right tools will help him feel prepared. While keeping the basic needs in mind, allow for a couple of splurges like a cool notebook or a favorite-colored pen. These simple pleasures make going back to school a lot more fun. School supply lists also provide a great insight into the schoolwork ahead. Pace yourself and do your best not to rush out for any last-minute shopping items, as this can only add stress for both children and parents. In the days and weeks leading up to the start of school, make sure that all the necessary supplies are purchased, pantries are well-stocked, and back-to-school clothes are ready to go. If your child’s school offers school supply packages, take advantage of it. These packages guarantee your kids will have everything they need on their first day. Nothing exacerbates back-to-school jitters like disorganization and chaos at home, especially during the first week of school.
• Social Worries. A new class roster can mean adjusting without friends who have provided a social base in previous years. Try to present this as an opportunity for your child to widen his group of friends, rather than a tragic loss of a familiar face. If possible, get the class list and set up a play date before school starts, so that your child will have a new friend to look for on the first day. Establish time for him/her to catch up with old friends too. Getting to know classmates beforehand takes a lot of pressure off for the first day, since there’s already an established connection when they walk into school. A familiar face . . . is always comforting.
• Prepare a Safety-First Attitude. An important part of preparing for the first day of school, is the safety-first attitude. Scary but true: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in 2017, “nearly one in every five children between the ages of 5 and 9 who were killed in traffic crashes was a pedestrian.” If your child walks to school, you can’t reinforce safe walking rules enough. Your child should be taught to always take the same route (never a shortcut), stay on the sidewalk when possible, and use the help of a crossing guard when available. Never let your child wear headphones while walking to school and, make sure young children walk the route with you a few times before the big day. Make certain that your children know of the traffic as well the physical safety rules. The younger kids should know their name, how to spell it, their telephone number, and the number of a responsible and safe adult, that is taught by their parents. Figuring out where kids will go after school can be a challenge, especially if both parents work. Depending on a child’s age and maturity, you may need to arrange for after-school transportation and care. To ensure that kids are safe and entertained after school, investigate after school programs. Some are run by private businesses, others are organized by the schools themselves, places of worship, police athletic leagues, YMCA, community and youth centers and parks and recreation departments.
• Talk openly with your kids about your own experiences. When back to school nerves start up, use humor to ease the stress of changing classes to changing in gym class. Use this occasion as a teachable moment by laughing together and simply saying, “Who cares if you’re in your underwear – it’s the locker room, everyone else is wearing underwear too!” Above everything else, do your best to validate your child’s feelings. Some parents will dismiss a child’s fears of going back to school or miss cues that may revel something deeper is occurring. As parents, we are likely to believe that we’re always attuned to what’s going on with our own kid but sometimes we may mistakenly diagnose back-to-school anxiety when the culprit may be something else entirely. Maybe it’s not fear or anxiety. The jitters could be excitement or simply not knowing what’s ahead. Active listening and supporting your child can help to distinguish the difference between an issue that’s big or small. Kids are resilient. Nonetheless, it’s good to validate what they are feeling. Parents sharing their own success stories about their first day of school or about other changes they’ve experienced can resonate with kids and make them feel less worried. Most of all, whether it’s the first day of school or the last, make sure that your kid knows that you’re there to listen to their feelings and concerns, and that you don’t expect perfection – only that they do their best.
• Let the final days of summer be a memorable one. Reassure your child about how much you care. More than anything else, let your child know they can talk to you about anything that’s bothering them. Provide them with extra encouragement and let them know how very proud you are of them. Before the start of school, spend some quality time together as a family. Take a road trip, splurge on a family meal or have a surprise adventure. Arming kids with fond memories of what they did over the summer, aside from sleeping in or going to the beach or pool will give them conversation starters with their peers and fuel them to get through the first weeks and months of class with a smile on their faces. Most of all, whether it’s the first day of school or the last, always, make certain your kids know you’re there to listen to their feelings and concerns.
Contrary to some popular belief, success in school is NOT an individualized effort where the student takes exclusive responsibility for their own results. Achievement is and always has been a three-way effort that is most successful when parents, teachers, and students share involvement and mutually commit to student learning outcomes. At the end of the day, the most important tool you can use is to know your own child and let them know that you will always be there for them. It is perfectly normal for each child to react to going back to school in his or her own way. Observe the situation, but also try to keep it all in perspective. Be positive. Many of us remember the back-to-school days, but it’s important to let go of our baggage before we burden our kids with it. Watch your language (even when you think your kid isn’t listening) and set the expectations that heading back-to-school is going to be a great new learning experience. Parenting is such an all-encompassing job. Each stage feels monumental because it is. Take pride and comfort knowing that you have gotten your kids on the best possible start. It’s amazing to see our children grow up – it’s what our job is all about. My one piece of advice to parents sending their child to school for the vey first time or off to college this school year: Stock up on a few boxes of tissues. It’s okay to cry. In fact, crying is not only healthy, it’s normal! The real trick however is to plan. Your kids are more ready than you think and if they are not, you will get there together. So, cherish all the moments as they grow and learn to flow with the current. YOU WILL BOTH SURVIVE!
This article appears in the August 2019 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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