Regardless of what your summer looked like, going back to school can be a stressful time for students and parents alike. Anxiety for the start of a new school year, also known as back to school jitters, is common. (Keep in mind that any school anxiety lasting beyond the first four weeks should be talked about with a healthcare professional.) Easing a child into their back to school routine is key and helps both the child and parent adjust to their new routine.
Here are some tips that I give parents in my back to school newsletter each year.
- Start preparing 3 weeks prior to school starting. Although 3 weeks seems early, it can really help the child adjust rather than just throwing them in. In our home, we allow our children to stay up a little later in the summer. Catching fireflies and playing flashlight tag are some of our summer night staples. Once we hit the second week of August (our school goes back the last week of August typically) we start moving bedtime a little earlier each night. This gradual adjustment seems to work to help the kids fall asleep faster. They have less arguments with us about bedtime too.
- Talk about the upcoming school year. Bringing the school year up into regular conversation can ease anxiety if children are mentally prepared for it. We start talking about friends, recess, lunchtime, and all the fun stuff first. Then we start talking about all the new things they will learn. My first grader loves math so we talk about the math problems he will probably start doing in first grade.
- Make a calendar. My 6 year old loves this one. We make an August calendar together and label it with when school starts. He adds stickers each day as a countdown to help the excitement grow. By making the calendar he is part of the process which excites him even more! We add other important and fun activities as well and keep it on our refrigerator.
- Visit the school. Going inside might not be an option but you can walk around the grounds and talk about the school. Maybe even peek in some windows. If you don’t know which classroom your child will be in you can turn it into a game to try and guess where your child might be.
- Validate their feelings and worries. Let them know that back-to-school jitters are perfectly normal and that it is okay to be a little scared or anxious about change. A new grade, a new school, maybe some new friends might seem daunting to your child. Reassure them that with their worries can be excitement too. Let them talk about how they feel and accept it. You can say things like, “I understand why you might feel_______.” or “Tell me more about why you feel _________.” Sometimes talking it out is the best way to release some anxious feelings.
Remember, parents, you are not alone in this. We all feel some jitters when we send our children back to school each fall. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other parents. If you have concerns, reach out to your child’s teacher. Stay strong!
Nicole Zawidski publishes the site Lehigh Valley Moms, is the mother of two children, and is an elementary educator.