My son is only three years old, but “back-to-school” is still an anxiety-heightening phrase in our household. See, although we’re not doing preschool yet, I’m a school librarian. I LOVE my kiddos at school and enjoy things once the routine returns, but this year will be a whole new ball of wax with a maternity leave come November; my son was born mid-July, so I didn’t have to figure out the logistics of that the first time around.
Not to mention that being afforded the opportunity to stay home with my son all summer is not something I take for granted. I cherish the time we can spend this way, and every single year I go through the same emotional roller-coaster heading back to normalcy. It’s pretty tough.
And, thinking of all the unknowns children face when going back to school – a new teacher, new classmates, possibly the prospect of a whole new school or schedule (even a change in lunchtime) – it can be daunting. For kids who crave a routine, it’s even scarier. It breaks my heart to see the first week tears and stress the little ones (and even the not-so-little-ones) endure during morning drop-off.
But, I’ve learned some ways to cope. Whether you’re sending your first one off to school or have been doing this for years, I thought I’d share some tips that may help keep things calmer for both child and parent.
Go over your schedule early and get everyone’s bodies into the routine. Ugh. I honestly hate this one, but it genuinely helps. Start with a casual conversation about what time they’ll leave the house (whether by bus or car), and discuss a realistic time to wake up. Start getting everyone up a little earlier each day so that the first day doesn’t feel like jet lag for everyone. It definitely makes for a less frazzled start!
Read back-to-school books. There are tons of books for starting school (from Wemberly Worried to First Day Jitters to Llama Llama Misses Mama for littles to Middle School: Get Me Out of Here! and Wonder for older readers), so if your child has an easier time relating to a book, just head to your local library together. Read together or independently, but be sure to follow-up on their thoughts.
Talk about any worries or fears in advance. Some children handle transition smoothly; others become suddenly introverted and their worries don’t rise to the top until the very last minute – like in the school hallway at 8am on the first day. If you notice any changes in your child’s behavior before school starts, talk to them about it. Allow them an open space to discuss any feelings without telling them that things will, simply, “be fine” or that “it’ll get better once you get there.” Sure, that’s probably what will happen, but the anxiety beforehand is often the worst part. Think about a time that you were scared or anxious (before a big presentation or when starting a new job) and validate their feelings.
Stock up and prep while things are still relatively calm. If your school year hasn’t yet begun (sorry if it has!), make a list of favorite meals and healthy snacks that your family loves. Pick a handful that you can make now to freeze for later use. It sounds silly, but just having a stockpile of healthy muffins or meals (and lunches like these healthy “real food” options) on hand alleviates tons of morning and evening “what do I make?” stress. Oh, and if you can at least start prepping lunches the night before (and remember to thaw the meal or set up the Crock Pot), it’ll save even more worry!
Plan your meals. Use the aforementioned list of family favorites to create a meal plan, either weekly or monthly. Make sure the first week or two are full of comforting, easy-to-make (or unthaw/cook/serve!) meals. You’ll be far less stressed (or apt to grab fast food), and having a sit-down meal together at the end of the day will give your family a chance to touch base about the activities of the day. Also, aren’t there so many emotions tied with meals? We look forward to the meal knowing we’ll be having our favorite spaghetti and meatballs or sloppy joe recipe that night.
If all else fails, role play. If your child is having true fears and anxiety about going to school, have a further discussion and try a role play scenario. Even we grown-ups lose more energy worrying about the unknowns of life than what we eventually endure. So, ask what exactly it is that worries your child? Is it unlocking a locker? Go through the steps of unlocking one in advance, having them practice, and talk about who they can seek out to help if they have an issue. Or is it an issue of making friends? Role play, pretending to be a fellow student sitting next to them in class and allow your child to practice talking to and connecting with another child.
And, of course, if there’s a greater underlying issue (a past case of bullying or an academic problem), feel free to contact the school to see what suggestions they have for a smooth transition into the new school year. Be proactive and positive, and maintain that attitude with your child to help empower them rather than enable them.
So, how many of you have already begun school for the year (if your child is of school age)? Does anyone else want to hide their head in the sand until the very last minute? Who’s homeschooling, and if so, do you go all year or take a summer break?
And, is anyone else looking forward to at least the “pumpkin everything” that autumn brings? (Fall is my favorite, BTW, once the back-to-school anxiety has subsided. ;-))