Heading back to school can be stressful for kids and parents, especially if it is to a new school or in a different country. Back-to-school blues can be caused by anxiety about new beginnings or the return to structured schedules and the loss of summertime freedoms. Here are some suggestions for how you can help your family get off to a great start for a new school year.
Make friends with their teacher.
I love the Washington Post’s connection tool suggestion for younger children: Email your child’s teacher at the start of the school year. Ask about their favorite food, animal, color, what they are most afraid of, etc. Then share their answers with your child to help them learn more about their as an actual person. This can help make new teachers seem more familiar rather than unknown or scary.
Get organized to reduce stress.
Make a list of the morning routine and everything that needs to get done before leaving the house. Make a list of everything your child needs to take with them to school so that they can check every morning on their own to make sure they aren’t forgetting anything. Many families keep big weekly calendars on chalkboards or whiteboards with everyone’s activities for the week to help keep everyone in the loop.
Stock the cupboards and fridges with favorite foods for snacks and lunch.
Take your child shopping with you and involve them in picking out and even making their own lunch or snacks. Reduce morning stress by trying to pack as much of the lunch the night before.
Don’t over-commit (at least at first) to too many extracurricular activities.
Schedule downtime on weekends and in the afternoons in the first month of school. Children will be overstimulated by new environments, challenged by busier schedules, and more tired than you might expect.
Keep earlier (or at least regular) bedtimes at night.
Experts suggest gradually start shifting your child’s bedtime earlier by 10 minutes a night so that the earlier “school-year” bedtime is not such a shock at the start of the school year.
Validate your children’s feelings while staying positive.
You don’t have to be a cheerleader, just a good listener. Allow children complain about a bad day, without trying to put a positive spin on every negative they tell you about. For younger children, the book School’s First Day of School (read aloud here on YouTube) is a touching story about a first-day jitters told from the perspective of a new school building.
Don’t freak out if your child tells you they hate school.
It may just be one or two bad days, adjusting to big changes, or maybe your child just doesn’t like school. That is ok and normal. Their unhappiness doesn’t mean that you need to immediately try to solve all of the reasons why they had a bad day, email their teacher, or start looking for a new school to transfer to immediately. Here are some suggestions for what to say when your child tells you that they don't want to go to school.
Instead, try to listen to their concerns and try to find parts of their day that went o.k. Be patient and remember that for the majority of children, not wanting to go back to school is only temporary. If your child's misery only increases with time and you aren't sure what your next step should be, this parenting article has some helpful tips to try to figure out the source of your child's back-to-school blues.
Remember to take care of yourself too. It can be exhausting to try to beat back-to-school blues as a parent, especially if getting your child to school each day is a battle. Try not to color your child's experiences with your own anxieties about them heading to a new school. Don't hesitate to call in the reinforcements and have other family members or friends take your child to school to help diffuse the high levels of distress that school refusal can cause in both children and parents.
Do you have other suggestions for how to make the back-to-school transition easier? We all can learn from one another, so please share in the comments section below.