6 Back to School Tips to Ease Your Child’s Anxiety
It’s that time of year! Most kids, parents and teachers are excited to jump into the new school year. Yet for some kids, it can be terrifying, or at the least, be overwhelming. It is NORMAL for kids (parents and teachers, too) to feel a mix of excitement and nervousness. There are a lot of unknowns when starting a new school year. What will my teacher be like? What will I learn? Who will I sit next to during class? During lunch? What if it’s too hard? Too easy?
Leaving parents, the ‘not knowing’, and even the transition from a less structured time to a more structured time can all be possible causes of anxiety. But have no fear (pun intended), YOU can help your child get through this! Here are 5 tips to help you with a smooth transition to school this year.
Start getting into a routine a week or two before school starts. Practice morning and bedtime routines so your child gets develops a habit and can get the required amount of sleep. (see blog on Morning Routines or Bedtime Routines). Most elementary school aged children need 9-11 hours and older children need 8-10 hours of sleep. Practice walking to school or walking to the bus stop. Time your morning routines and the walk to see how much time it takes. Add 15 minutes to that time, once school actually starts, in case there’s a delay or someone gets side tracked. You can always have a special activity (i.e., cuddle and read a book together) if you get done early.
2. Stay Calm.
One of the most important things is for you, the grown-up, to remain calm. If you get all worked up or appear anxious, your child will pick up on your feelings. That’s not to say that you can’t feel anxious or sad – my kids are going into middle and high school and I still get tear-y eyed after they walk into the school. Notice I said “after” they walk into the school. Do your best to keep a calm appearance when you are with your child.
3. Stay Positive.
For kids who are anxious or scared about school, focus on the positives of school. That doesn’t mean you can’t talk about things that worry your child, but answer them in a calm and positive manner. Mention things your child feels confident about (she is good at math, he has met the teacher and she has a nice smile). Smile when you talk about school and offer things that you remember enjoying when you were in school, even if it was playing on the monkey bars at recess.
4. Ask Questions.
Think of a list of questions and pick one or two each day. Ask your child as he heads off to school and then ask for the answers when he returns home. You could even make these ‘special missions.’ An example question/mission could be: “When you get home, I’d like to know who you sat next to in lunch today and one food that person had that you might want in your lunch in the future.”
Remember to ask the question again when your child gets home.
5. Something Special.
Do or have something special for your child. You could designate a special snack that she only gets when she’s at school (not an ‘at home’ snack). Maybe there is a special shirt you bought him to wear on the first day. Pick out special notebooks for school together. Decorate the notebooks if they are plain. Don’t forget to take and/or use pictures!
Before my daughters could read, I would put a new picture in a zip top bag taped to the inside of their lunch boxes every Monday. I still put a picture in on the first day of school, but now I write little love notes every once in a while, throughout the year. “Good luck on your test!” “Smile!” “You are Awesome!”
6. Do Something for YOU.
If it’s been a challenging few weeks, or if it is difficult for you to see your child go off to school, make sure YOU have plans after you drop him/her off that first day. Go out for coffee with another parent, walk the dog, schedule a playdate with your friend. Do something to take your mind off your child. Teachers are aware that the first day can be tough for some children. They have all kinds of tricks up their sleeves to help their students feel welcome, comfortable, and included. Most kids who cling, or leave their parents tear-y eyed at the door (meaning the kids, not the parents), are fine moments after the door shuts and their little minds are engaged in doing something fun.
YOU CAN DO THIS!!
I love this time of year! There are fresh school supplies in the stores, the weather starts to change, and there are so many hope-filled possibilities. Yes, it’s “Back To School” time.
My disclaimer before you read the rest of this post, so that you know my bias: I am not one of those moms who does a happy dance when my kiddos go off to school each fall. This time of year is bitter sweet for me. I love getting back into a routine and the structure of school and activities. But I miss my kids. I enjoy spending time with them during the summer and eating lunch with them..
Below are a few things that have made the transition to school easier for our family. Sign up for my weekly TIPS if you would like more fun, easy ideas regarding the start of school (and many other things throughout the year)
1. Practice Run
When my girls were little, we would do a full practice run the week before school started. We would wake up “on time” to get washed up, eat breakfast, put clothes on, make lunches, and pack things into back packs with enough time to get to school. If your kids will be walking or riding their bikes, time that. It took our family 25-35 minutes to walk to school in first grade because my girls had small legs. We also we had to stop and look at everything along the way. By fifth grade, we could make it to school in 10-15 minutes (less if we were late and had to jog!). If your child is taking a bus, practice being ready 5 minutes before you need to leave for the bus stop. If you are driving, plan on carpool-lane lines, especially in rainy or snowy weather, and give yourself a little cushion of time there as well.
2. Stock up on School Supplies in Advance
Many schools will provide students with a supply list for their upcoming year. If at all possible, buy these supplies in advance so that you are not fighting crowds or toting tired kids along after they have been at school all day.
Since we’ve been doing this for a while, I save leftover supplies at the end of the year. My girls shop in ‘our store’ before we go off and purchase new items. It’s not nearly as fun as having brand new colored pencils, but do I really need to spend $3 on 12 new pencils when only the light blue and green ones were used a little bit last year? I think not. It’s the same thing with notebooks and binders. Especially the notebooks we bought towards the end of the year. These often only have 8-10 used pages. I rip the used pages out and we have a new (well, almost new) notebook for the fall.
3. Important Names and Numbers
Start working on important names and numbers now. In addition to a digital list, if that’s the way you work, keep a hard copy of this list in a central location (near your phone or on the cover of your phone book) so that it is handy for everyone when needed. Some of the numbers I keep: School Office, Attendance, Teacher(s), Emergency Contacts, Doctor/Dentist Office, Close Friends and Neighbors. This list comes in handy when my kids need to be out of school (attendance) and when filling in all of the forms at the beginning of the year (every year) that ask for some of that information.
4. Dates on Calendar
Put dates on your calendar as soon as they come in. It doesn’t matter if you use a digital calendar or an old fashioned paper and pencil calendar. Put the dates on now. This might seem like a no-brainer or a super easy task. If you are just starting and don’t have too many activities, it should be relatively easy. However, if you have multiple children involved in multiple activities, it can get busy and might seem overwhelming quickly.
I have one client who uses a different color for each person in her family. Another client uses a different color for different activities (school activities are green, sports are blue, scouts are brown, etc.). There is no correct way to do this. You will need to come up with a system that works for you – even if you write everything in pencil – the goal is to get in the habit of writing it all on your calendar so that you can keep your head above water and stay on top of things!
5. Have Fun
This is super important to me. I want to send my girls off to their first day in a good mood.
I have helium balloons and take pictures on that first day of school. While I do request at least one ‘nice smile’ picture, there are often a bunch of crazy faces along the way. I also provide donuts for our bus stop on the first day of school (the middle school bus stops right in front of our house). As a bonus, after the kids leave, the parents usually hang around and visit for a bit and tease me as I try not to cry. Yes, even with my girls growing up, I still get a bit tear-y eyed on that first day.
After school I offer my girls a special snack (ice cream or milk and cookies) that we don’t have on a typical afternoon. It’s my way of getting them to sit still long enough to talk about their day for a few moments.
Stay tuned for next week’s blog. I’ll have more ideas to help if your child is anxious about school starting.