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Published on August 18, 2020

back to school illustration

Helping Families Get Ready for School

Back to school is a time of new beginnings – first time at school, new building and different routines.

This time also brings curiosity, anxiety and excitement. It would seem strange if it were not at least a bit stressful. Changes can be overwhelming but they don’t need to be. Think of a time when you previously helped your child through transitions; what worked?

Does your child warm up to new situations quickly or is does it take a while? Dealing with the unknown may present some kids with concerns. Here are a few ways to ease any worries that your child may have.

  • Fear of the unknown: Answer as many questions as you can. Seek out information from the school’s website or a teacher’s blog. Visit school together, make an appointment or attend the open house if one is held.
  • Separation anxiety: Put something in your child’s pocket to remind them of home (a small round stone or little piece of cloth). Read books and talk about other times when parents are away but always come back.
  • Make school shopping fun; let them have a decision in what to buy.
  • Start morning and bedtime routines at least one week prior (although some children may need longer, you know your child best).
  • Prepare the night before: Lay out clothes, fill backpacks and make lunches. Encourage children to help with all these tasks.
  • Recognize that middle-schoolers may have concerns as well such as being late to class, too much homework, locker problems, being too different or no friends. Address these concerns, offer reassurances, seek out answers and make a plan to check back with them in a few days or next week to see how it feels now.

As a parent you may want to consider the following:

  • Give your child every possible advantage to succeed: Being well rested and having a good breakfast are two ways to get the school day off to a great start.
  • Dress code at school
  • School physical or immunizations: What is required?
  • Lunch money: Do you pay by the day or week? Is there a PIN number to know? Will you be sending lunch from home? Are there restrictions to what can be brought in?
  • Forms: Registration, medication, emergency contact and others.
  • Backpack: Is it lightweight with padded straps? Be careful not to overfill it as this can lead to problems such as muscle soreness, back and neck pain.
  • Supplies: Any special requirements for certain classes?
  • Goodbyes: Routines are helpful. Make departures quick, matter of fact. Do not feed drama. Set up a “launch pad” for all the going-out-the door gear.
  • Don’t pile it on: So many new things all at once can be overpowering. Sports, playdates and other activities after school may cause a child to say “I can’t, I’m so tired” especially during those first weeks. Try to ease into extra activities and allow downtime.
  • If you are feeling overwhelmed, talk to other parents/adults. Find ways to manage your own stress and model positive coping.

One important thing you want is for your child to feel they can come and talk to you about their worries. Listen to any feelings that your child expresses and let them know it is alright to feel uncertain or anxious at times. Children may need extra care, but may be doing everything possible to push you away. Respond – don’t react; stay calm instead. Seek answers to their concerns and focus on the positive.

If you are concerned your child’s worries go beyond normal back-to -school nerves, contact your family physician or the school counselor.

Although each school year may look different whether they are returning to elementary school, moving onto middle school, high school or even college; take a deep breath, you’ve got this! Focus on the positive – the first week of school is tough no matter the grade level.

Be a calming presence; your children look to you for encouragement, support, strength and reassurance. The world is ever-changing so be gentle with yourself, this is a very different time in your parenting journey.

Twila Perkinson, BS, CCLS, is an Avera Family Life Educator at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center

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