Like many parents and caregivers this week you may be experiencing the excitement, and sometimes chaos, of the back to school season. Mainstream media, social media, and stores do a great job of hyping up the start of the new school year, and making us feel like there are so many things we must buy and do to prepare our children for that first day. There’s no doubt it’s an exciting time and there are things that students will need, but if you are thinking that you haven’t done enough or your stress level is high, here are some tips to get you through the next week.
Sleep: During the summer, many families get off track with their sleep routines. It’s not too late to try to make some adjustments to move everyone back to a schedule that is closer to what it will need to be for a successful school morning and day. It may be a good time to start to set limits around screen time, which can negatively impact quality of sleep. Kids who sleep well are better prepared to learn, make good decisions, and have more energy and better moods. This is a good area to prioritize as the first day approaches.
Stuff: The truth is that many of the supplies, clothes, shoes and hair cuts that haven’t happened yet, can wait. Yes, all the shiny things are on the shelves and it’s a tradition for some families to pack the shopping cart full of fresh new pencil cases, backpacks and crayons before the big day, but many schools provide a lot of the supplies that will be required or, in many cases, send a list home in the first week outlining the must-haves. That list will be much, much smaller than what the stores would have you believe. Chances are the backpack from last year, shoes that still fit, and the pencils from the drawer will suffice for the first few days, maybe much longer. Bonus: Reducing and reusing is good for the planet, and there are often big sales and clearance prices in the weeks after the back-to-school rush!
Routine: It’s helpful to review the morning routine with your child. Discuss together the wake up time and bedtime, the breakfast and lunch plan, and how to organize clothes and backpacks so that things don’t get too hectic. Involve your child in the plan and be sure to assign them some responsibilities that are age-appropriate. You might want to write the schedule down and post it somewhere where everyone can see it. Some kids (and parents) may benefit from a run-through to experience what it will look like and understand what will be expected from everyone.
Anxiety: It’s normal for parents and kids to feel some fear and anxiety about going back to school. Talk to your child about what their questions and worries might be, acknowledge and validate their feelings, and come up with a plan for how to address their concerns. If they are going to a new school, visit the school and walk around the grounds to help your child become familiar with the building. Rehearse the drop-off and pick up or the walk to/from school or the bus stop. Talk about safety and highlight any rules that they will need to follow. Practice and role-play situations that they are not sure about. Help them identify who their helpers at school will be. Model calm and confidence as much as possible to be the emotional anchor for your child during the transition back to school, even if you are dealing with your own anxiety at this time. Build in some ways to celebrate overcoming challenges along the way.
Practice: Change and the unknown can be stressful, and there are likely to be a few bumps in the road. Prepare yourself and your child by teaching and practicing some some stress management strategies and coping skills together. There are many fabulous resources out there to help with this. Some of my favorite websites with 2-5 minute videos and activities that don’t take long but can have a big impact are: Go Noodle, Cosmic Kids Zen Den, and Kids Help Phone.
Boundaries: Once the school year starts, it’s easy to quickly get caught up in the busy-ness of balancing parenting, school demands, and work demands. Schedule some down time in the first weeks for yourself and your child. It doesn’t take long before the after school activities, homework, medical/dental/therapy appointments, and other responsibilities quickly fill up family calendars, but those first days can be exhausting for everyone. During the first few weeks of school, consider keeping some afternoons and weekend days free for resting and doing nothing in particular. Everyone will benefit from this.
Above all, be gentle with yourself - most of us did not complete our summer to-do lists! Many of us had the best of intentions to keep kids reading and learning and if you did, that’s great, but if you didn’t, that’s ok. Give yourself permission to simply enjoy these last days of summer with your kids doing fun things together. Take a few things off the to-do list. And if everything isn’t 100% ready on day 1, that’s ok, too.
If you have concerns about how your child is adjusting to school, if your child is struggling with their mental health, or if back-to-school anxiety persists, book a free consultation to find out how our therapists at Inner Oak Therapy can help
Written by Lisa Brandon