It’s that time again. Back to school. Every channel on TV is running commercials of excited children, who are smiling and enthusiastically marching off to class.
But your child may not be so cheerful. Lots of children struggle with the adjustment of returning to school. Fears of mean teachers, anxiety about making friends, sadness about the return of homework….these are just a few of the things that make for a challenging time before the start of the school year.
I’m sure you understand your child’s perspective…it is a downer to go from freedom, fun, and late bedtimes to….routine, structure, and homework, homework, homework.
Here’s a list of things you can do with your child to beat those back to school blues.
Include your child in back to school purchases as much as possible. This includes giving your child a choice of color of backpack, shape of pencil case, or style of clothes. Your child will feel more confident if he can take ownership of the process. This will lead to improved enthusiasm and fewer power struggles, too.
Take advantage of meeting the teacher, visiting the classroom, and reviewing class schedules. If your child knows more about what’s coming up ahead, it takes the mystery away. Less of the unknown means less anxiety for your child. You and your child can focus on what is instead of what if.
Have a conversation with your child about two important topics. One is what your child’s looking forward to, and the other is what’s making your child worried or upset.
Why are these two conversations important? Focusing on the positives can uplift your child’s mood and get him back on track. Maybe it’s friends he hasn’t seen in awhile, or after school basketball tryouts, or the monkey bars at recess. Highlight what you know he enjoyed last year and remind him that those will still be there (if they are) or discuss possible new opportunities he might enjoy instead (if they’re not).
Secondly, when you encourage a conversation you may learn something that you’re able to help with. For instance, he may be nervous he won’t be able to find his classes, or that he’ll get a “mean” teacher. These are opportunities for your child to share his feelings and for both of you to problem solve. Acknowledging your child’s feelings without disputing them will go a long way in easing those back to school blues.
Ultimately, your child needs to vent his feelings about school. It’s an opportunity for him to feel heard. Your child knows he doesn’t have to keep feelings bottled up.
Work on that bedtime routine, before school starts. It’s tough enough to deal with all the emotions of the first day, but to deal with them while groggy? Not a good combo. If your child forgot the rhythm of his routine, running through it will be very helpful.
Think structure. The same activities done every night help the mind to wind down and the body to rest. If he’s been staying up later, roll the bedtime back in increments every night. It will be less of a hurdle than trying to send your child to bed an hour or two earlier the night before school starts.
Don’t forgot the morning routine! Does your child know where his backpack is? Binder? Shoes? Does he remember to wash his face AND brush his teeth? Is there enough time to take a shower AND eat breakfast? Don’t forget that school traffic you’re going to wrestle with!
Getting ready for the day takes a lot of coordination. Going through the paces allows you and your child to work out any kinks ahead of time and avoid any first day disasters.
Utilize empathy and compassion if your child is moody, anxious, mopey, defiant, or just not himself. The problem is about the start of the school year. It’s not about you. You don’t want to start a power struggle between the two of you. Your child needs someone on his team that understands him. Help him problem solve what his real foe is.
Bottom line: Ultimately, adjustments are hard for any child (parents too!). Keeping calm and confident in your child’s ability to adjust can go a long way in helping your child have a more positive experience.
Please comment below: Does your child have the back to school blues? What are you and your child doing to get prepared for a successful school year?
Jenmarie Eadie is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who is passionate about helping children to become less stressed by giving them and their parents tools, support and encouragement. She received her Master’s in Social Work from Arizona State with a dual concentration in Children, Youth, and Families; and Behavioral Health.