How to Handle Back-to-School Emotions: A Conversation with Savvy Psychologist

Every fall, millions of children begin a new school year with emotions ranging from excitement to dread. Mighty Mommy teams up with colleague Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen to discuss supporting your kids during back-to-school season.

Cheryl Butler
2-minute read
Episode #343

Back to school is a magical time of the year. Not only are the possibilities endless for a year of growth and discovery, but the unexpected ingredients can make this the best school year ever. Here are a few from Savvy Psychologist Ellen Hendriksen's for parents who want to support their kids in the back-to-school season:

1.  When faced with a “What if?” question—”What if I forget my lunch?” or “What if I get off at the wrong bus stop?”—collaborate with your child to answer the question. For instance, you could say, “Well, what if you did forget your lunch?  What are some things we could do about that?”  Together, you might come up with the idea to stash some extra lunch money in their backpack just in case, or to call the school to see if there’s a forgotten lunch protocol in place.

2.  Familiarity is your best tool to fight back-to-school jitters.  Help them get familiar with as many elements as possible before the first day—show up at the school and walk around, find their classroom, find the closest restroom.

3.  It’s OK if your child only has a few friends—it’s the quality of the connection that counts, not the quantity.  

4. Car rides are where middle school parents can do some of their best work. For tweens (and teens) it’s easier to talk from seat to seat than face to face.

5. For kids attending school for the first time, a transitional object can often help, like a picture of your family or a special stuffed animal.  For older kids who are still anxious about separating, the same concept can still work, just in a more subtle fashion.  For instance, you can tuck a note in their lunch (if that’s not too embarrassing), or put matching stickers on her pencil case and your laptop case and say whenever you look at it you’ll think of each other. 

6. Go easy on the extracurricular activities. Kids who are introverted or anxious need some time to wind down, read a book, get lost in Legos, or otherwise de-stress.  

What different emotions have back-to-school caused for your family this year and how have you helped your family cope? Let me know in the comments or post it on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page. You can also connect with me on Twitter @MightyMommy or e-mail me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com.

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She 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. You can reach her by email.