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5 Ways to Curb Back-to-School Anxieties

The weeks leading up to and beginning the new school year can be a stressful time for the entire family. Mighty Mommy shares five tips to help lessen the anxieties of transitioning back to school.

By
Cheryl Butler
Episode #542
back to school

Heading back to school brings on such a mixed bag of emotions. Families are winding down from carefree summer vacation-mode, where plenty of down-time is the norm. Weeks of laid-back summer living can be fun, but many families also admit to needing a break from the 24/7 togetherness. Kids are looking forward to seeing their school friends once again and beginning their new classroom adventures. But transitioning from the non-structured lazy days of summer into the rigidity of the new school year can be tough.

Some anxiety about returning to school is typical in kids. Will they like their new teacher, have friends to play with at recess or sit with at lunch, and be able to handle their new grade's workload? For most kids, new-school-year worries will gradually disappear as they get acclimated to their routines and environment. But the weeks leading up to and beginning the new year can be a stressful time for the whole family.

Here are five tips to help lessen the anxieties of transitioning back-to-school.

#1 - Prepare Ahead

One reason kids feel anxious about the start of a new school year is that they get thrust into a rigid routine without any warning. Keeping late-night hours, sleeping in, and grabbing something crumpled to wear will not make the grade once school starts.

Although you may want to soak up every last bit of your current summer lifestyle, gradually switching gears from those late-night movie binges to a bedtime routine similar to what you’ll be practicing when school starts will have huge benefits for you and your kids.

Plan to initiate your school routines two to three weeks before the first day of school.

Plan to initiate your school routines two to three weeks before the first day of school. This can be as simple as getting them to bed 15 minutes earlier for a few nights, gradually increasing the time to half an hour, and eventually landing at your child’s typical school bedtime. Once school starts, your child won’t feel such a dramatic shift in their sleep schedule.

This applies to wake-up time as well. Just like with bedtime, begin gradually moving wakeup time earlier. 

The weeks leading up to the start of school are a great time to re-establish the ritual of choosing outfits the night before. Anything you can do to get your family back into their fall routine—like meal planning, re-adjusting to school lunch items, and re-establishing regular laundry days—before vacation ends will take the edge off of those back-to-school jitters.

#2 - Talk About It

As we cruise out of summer and into school life, it’s easy to focus on all the fun we just had building sandcastles and splashing in the pool. But many of us don’t make the time to check in with our kids. As summer winds down, it's a great time to ask them how they feel about the upcoming school year.

A good friend of mine shared how her family prepares for each new school year by having a back-to-school family meeting. It may seem corny, but she’s been doing this for over a decade now. Her kids have come to look forward to it because it helps them work through potential problems and come up with plans to solve them.

The gist of this meeting is to gather together with all electronic devices turned off. Discussion topics might include:

  • Highlights of the summer
  • Reestablishing school-year routines and chores
  • Homework policies and rules
  • Back-to-school supply and clothing shopping
  • Concerns for your child’s safety and well being for the new school year
  • Guidelines and etiquette for social media use
  • An open forum for your child or children to share their thoughts and concerns

It's also a good idea to discuss bullying and emphasize that you're always available to listen, no matter what problems they may face throughout the school year. Break down into one-on-one talk time for any delicate matters your child wants to discuss in private.

Break down into one-on-one talk time for any delicate matters your child wants to discuss in private.

After the family meeting, which can last anywhere from one to two hours, my friend and her family celebrate the end of summer by going to their favorite restaurant for dinner and then getting ice cream sundaes for dessert.

#3 - Create a Worry List

I’ve always been a list person. When I write something down, I have a tangible reference of things I want to accomplish in the course of a day. I can keep track of my long-term goals, better manage my finances, streamline my grocery shopping, and reflect on what I’m grateful for. Written reminders help me to organize my life.

Because of that, I tend to embrace ideas that involve physically writing things down. Writing is a tool that has always helped me to be a better problem solver.

Mel Robbins, best-selling author of The Five Second Rule, suggests a helpful way that kids can get a handle on their worries—creating a list. She suggests working with your child to list everything they worry about. Writing your worries on paper can get them out of your head and make them seem less scary.

Once the worry list is created, the next step is to place a positive or happy thought next to the worry. Eventually, your child will reach for the good thought to replace whatever he might be worried about.

Examples

Worry Thought – Mom will forget to pick me up from school.

Happy Thought – Mom and I laughing as we stop for ice cream on the way home.

 

Worry Thought – I won’t be able to understand Algebra II.

Happy Thought – Looking at a test with an A grade.

 

Worry Thought – I won’t make any friends at my new school.

Happy Thought – Being invited to hang out with the guys on my soccer team.

My youngest daughter is entering the eighth grade this year. She’s nervous about the cliques that might form and afraid she’ll be thrown into another drama- and gossip-filled year like she experienced in seventh grade. We spent some time this past weekend creating her worry list and combating worries with happy thoughts. This a cathartic exercise for her, empowering her to feel a lot more ready for the first day of school. It was also a great way for the two of us to connect. She was more open in sharing her feelings because she was writing them down.

#4 - Back-To-School Reads

One of my favorite ways to spend time with my kids when they were younger was to read to them. Our sacred nightly ritual was to snuggle up on the couch and read bedtime stories together. Some nights, they could barely keep their eyes open during the story. At other times, they excitedly asked questions about the characters and could easily pretend they were romping through the Hundred Acre Wood holding Pooh Bear’s hand. It was magical for them and for me.

As an avid reader, now that my kids are older, I’m thrilled that most of them are hooked on books like me. I believe part of that is due to the book clubs they had in school. For the 20 years I’ve been involved in our school’s PTO, I’ve been a huge fan of the Scholastic Book Club. The wide variety of books in all genres truly offered something for all kids’ interests.

In 12 Books to Ease Back-to-School Anxiety for All Ages, Scholastic recommends some great reads that will fit the bill for all school kids. This summer, my daughter and her friends read Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories. It's the story of Auggie Pullman, an ordinary boy with an extraordinary face (now a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts). They really enjoyed it!

#5 - Just Breathe

Today, one of the popular ways that busy, anxious folks are keeping their cool is to practice the art of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and aware of where we are and what we’re doing without getting wrapped up in what’s going on around us.

One way to get yourself into the mindfulness zone is to focus on your breathing.

One way to get yourself into the mindfulness zone is to focus on your breathing. As simple as this may sound, for many of us (myself included) this takes some practice. Our minds are constantly moving in a hundred different directions, and we don’t know how to purposefully quiet them down.

By paying attention to the breath—deep breath in, slow exhale out—we cultivate a resilience that allows us to be present when a stressful situation arises.

This can be an extremely effective tool for kids who suffer from anxiety or who may be nervous when faced with a new situation like taking a new bus back and forth to school. In Psychology Today's Five Anxiety-Lowering Strategies for Children, breathing is the first recommendation. Deep breathing (or belly breathing) can help center your child. It's something you can practice with him. This YouTube video demonstrates belly breathing for kids.

The best part about practicing belly breathing is that it can be done anywhere at anytime. Soon, it can become a go-to remedy that your child (and you) can reach for and use before his anxieties escalate. 

See also: 5 Simple Mindfulness Habits for Better Parenting

GET MORE MIGHTY MOMMY

Does your child struggle with back-to-school anxieties? Share your thoughts in the comments section at quickanddirtytips.com/mighty-mommy, the Mighty Mommy Facebook page, or Twitter. You can also email me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com. Visit my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT for more tips and hints! Listen and subscribe on AppleSpotifyGoogleStitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

About the Author

Cheryl Butler

Cheryl L. Butler is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. Call the Mighty Mommy listener line at 401-284-7575 to ask a parenting question. Your call could be featured on the show!

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