Please don’t shoot the messenger, but it’s almost that time again. That’s right, some schools are starting up in another week, and even those that don’t start until September are starting to ready their bulletin boards and wax the floors for the first day of classes. Back to school will always involve some level of stress for parents and kids (and teachers!), but it doesn’t have to be doomsday. Here are a few tips to take a little stress out of the start of the year.
1. Return to Routines Early
Lazy mornings. Late nights making s’mores by the fire pit. Ice cream for supper. These are what make summer the relaxing reprieve we all cherish. Unfortunately, the school year follows a far more rigorous schedule. There are busses to catch, soccer practices to make, and homework to be done. For learning, playing, and family time to be a success, kids need to be well rested and nourished. For that to happen without excess stress, families need to get back into a routine, and the best time to do that is not the day school starts, but a few days (or weeks) before. If you use the week or so before school starts to slowly adjust bedtimes, wake up times, and even meal times (schools serve lunch anywhere from 10:30 am to 1:30pm!), the start of school won’t seem like such a jolt to everyone’s system.
2. Plan Ahead
Back in my Weight Watchers days my favorite leader loved the expression “Proper planning prevents pudgy people.” It’s corny, but I think she was definitely onto something. Nothing increases stress and anxiety like having to make decisions and get things done last minute. So make a list now of everything that needs to get done before school starts, as well as updating your list of weekly chores and to-dos to include school-related activities, and then start checking things off as soon as possible. Have the kids help with whatever they can, too. I’m still only running a one-woman show at my house, so there’s a lot less chaos than most families deal with, but even I get all my outfits and lunches for the week ready on the weekend. If you have the closet space to hang things and some great Tupperware, it’s doable, and it makes mornings so much smoother.
3. Address Anxiety
There are those fearless kids, often younger siblings who’ve eagerly waited for years for it to be their turn, who dash onto the bus the first day of school without a worry in the world. But for most, starting school brings with it some anxiety. Kids worry about having friends in their class, liking their teacher, fitting in. Parents worry about Common Core, bullying, reduced recess time, and standardized tests. Anxiety around school is natural, and while we certainly shouldn’t worry the kids with our own fears, it’s good to address theirs. If they voice concerns or just act differently in the days leading up to school, be sure to talk to them about it. Try to make a concrete plan for addressing any worries you can, things like making new friends, talking to the teacher, and catching the right bus. But be honest about the things you likely can’t change: teachers, classmates, homework. Learning to deal with people and things that might scare us at first is one of the best lessons we learn in school.
4. Jump Start the Learning
One stressor you can help your child with is getting his or her brain back into school mode. If traveling, camps, swim lessons, and just plain relaxing has got in the way of your best intentions for academic play and practice, returning to it in the week or two before school starts is a good idea. This might be a scary fact, but nearly all children regress to various degrees over the summer months. While teachers know this and spend time reviewing skills from previous years, new rigorous curriculum guidelines don’t give teachers the time they used to have to re-teach previous years’ material. So to assure your children don’t feel overwhelmed in those first weeks, do a little review with them at home before school starts. Obviously, they’re still in summer vacation, so make it fun and active. You don’t want something that’s meant to help adding to their anxiety, but if you can find games, apps, or activities that sneak in some math, spelling, reading, and writing, transitioning back to school work won’t seem as challenging for them come September.
5. Celebrate New Beginnings!
Growing up with two teachers as parents, you might think early September was a time of mourning in my house. It wasn’t. Ok, it probably was, but my parents hid it very well! In fact, they did such a great job of celebrating the start of school that I looked forward to it like it was Christmas or my birthday. I remember the little gifts—a few pieces of candy and maybe a fun pencil or eraser—that was left at my spot on the kitchen table when I came to breakfast before the first day of school, the notes my dad snuck into my lunch box, the dinner at a favorite restaurant at the end of the first week. Was there anxiety, mine or my parents? Probably, but it was overshadowed by excitement.
Back to school was an affirmation of the importance my parents put on learning and a celebration of new beginnings, new friendships, and new opportunities. If you can create that for your children, you’ve given them a tremendous gift.
So this back to school season, try to squash the stress and get giddy with your kids. Skip down the aisles of Staples like the dad in that commercial, but not because you’re happy to get rid of the little buggers, but because you’re overjoyed to watch them to learn, play, and grow over the course of a wonderful new school year.
Photo by Prometeus