How to calm down back to school jitters
Like all big transitions in life, the start of a new school year can be scary for kids — and for moms and dads too! How can parents help their kids cope? And how can they keep their own anxieties in check?
Have no fear! The TODAY Parenting Team is here! We asked the TODAY Parenting Team community to share guidance for surviving back-to-school season, and many responded with smart advice for minimizing back-to-school jitters. We’ve compiled a bunch of their suggestions here.
Please feel free to join in this ongoing conversation by becoming a member of our team, and stay connected to TODAY Parents updates on our Facebook page. If you’ve got other ideas for soothing nervousness at this time of year, please share them with us!
1. Talk with your kids about what to expect.
Preparation can help ease anxiety and stress.
“This is especially important if it’s the first time going to school! Even for older kids, starting a new grade with new teachers and friends can cause a lot of nervousness. Allow your child to express what they’re afraid of, and make sure to follow-up with validating statements such as, ‘I know that must feel so scary. When I was a kid, I felt that way, too.’ If they don’t open up, try asking, ‘How are you feeling about going to school?’ but avoid leading questions like, ‘Are you nervous about going to school?'”
2. Grab a good (and helpful) book.
Courtesy of Wading Through Motherhood
“If you have an elementary-aged child, there are so many funny back-to-school and first day of school books out there. When my daughter entered kindergarten, we read a cute rhyming story called ‘The Night Before Kindergarten.’ … Another favorite of mine is ‘First Day Jitters.'”
3. Try a dry run with role-playing.
“Acting out what’s going to happen on the first day is my favorite tip. It’s fun for everyone, and it helps eliminate some of the uneasiness about the unknown. Drive/walk the route you’ll take in the morning, and once you’re there, everyone can take a turn being the teacher, the child, and even a new friend. My daughter’s favorite is pretending to be a shy child in the corner, and we have to coax her to join the group with promises of being first in line for the slide, and singing her favorite song. This is a great tool to teach empathy as well!”
4. Prepare kids psychologically for what the morning routine will be like.
“When your children are younger, talk often to them about what the next step is. For early elementary, the last day of school was a loooong time ago and each school year is different. Don’t assume they’re going to be quick to adjust to the new routine. If your summer mornings were lazy and unstructured (i.e. TV or electronics before breakfast), being rushed to get dressed, eat and being shoved out the door might be an unpleasant shock to their system. I mean, starting school is a shock to my system, too, but I kind of know the routine.”
5. Teach your child how to make friends fast.
Taking the initiative to make friends can help the new year start smoothly.
“There will be a lot of children there who are anxious, too, so help your child practice introducing himself first. Give your child three topics of conversation when meeting someone for the first time. I always suggest that they ask others about the best thing they did all summer. Also, tell them that by saying hello first, they will bring relief to other kids who are anxious like they are.”
6. If you possibly can, organize play dates before the first day.
“Getting to know classmates beforehand takes a lot of pressure off for the first day, since there’s already an established connection when they walk into school. A familiar face … is always comforting. The school often sends out contact information for new families, especially in younger grades. You don’t need to host, either. Schedule a short get together at a frozen yogurt shop or the park.”
7. Parents of middle-schoolers: Watch what you say out loud!
Moms and dads, beware of burdening your children with your own middle school baggage.
“Be positive. Many of us remember middle school with a cringe, but it’s important to let go of our baggage before we burden our kids with it. You can make ‘middle school is the worst’ a self-fulfilling prophecy. Watch your language (even when you think your kid isn’t listening) and set the expectation that middle school is a good time.”
8. Open up with your kids about your own experiences.
“Share a story of your childhood of a time when you did something that was hard to do, but was worth the nervousness. Explain how you once reached out and got to know somebody you never would have known if it weren’t for making the first move.”
9. Remember that “the night before can make the morning bearable” — and less anxiety-inducing — for you, Mom and Dad.
“Before I hit the hay, I make sure the backpacks are packed with whatever they’re supposed to be packed with, that lunches are made and in the fridge and that school clothes are laid out. I put the shoes and socks by the front door so there’s zero drama over misplaced footwear that involves a yelling mom and tearful kids as the bus is rolling up…no one likes that. If your kids eat breakfast at home, you can save yourself a few minutes by setting the table for breakfast. At my house this means piling bowls and spoons on the kitchen counter and getting the cereal box out of the pantry, but hey, it works for us.”
10. On the first day of school, say a quick goodbye.
“As tempting as it is to give a few extra hugs, or chat with the other moms in the class, try to keep the goodbyes as quick as possible. Lingering can send mixed messages to your son/daughter, and you want them to feel your confidence, not your hesitation.”
11. Parents, it really is OK to cry.
It’s hard to say goodbye to our kids.
“Parenting is such an all-encompassing job. Each stage feels monumental because it is. It’s amazing to see our children grow up — it’s what our job is all about. But each new step they take in their lives, whether it’s eating with a fork or going off to college, is one more step away from us. I think that deserves a tear or two. My one piece of advice to parents this fall: Stock up on the good tissues.”
12. See? Crying is healthy! Crying is normal!
“The night before my eldest started kindergarten, I stood in my kitchen and cried. I cried hard. I didn’t know why, but now I do. It’s more than the pain of missing them and the fear of them growing up too fast. This is our big test, and that’s terrifying. How did we do as parents? Did we do our jobs the past 5 years? Are they ready to walk into a room, without us by their sides? Are they able to wait their turn? Will they handle themselves well on the playground — with the mean kid and with the quiet kid who has no friends? What if they are scared? What if they are hurt? Will they know what to do? Can they wipe their own butts? Will they remember to wash their hands? What if they can’t open their applesauce during lunch? Well, here’s the thing. Even if your kid can only do some of these things, and even if she can’t do any of them at all, she’s going to be okay. Because you did it. You passed the test already. She’s loved. She’s proud of herself. She’s got her Elsa backpack and she’s good to go. You got this.”
13. Transitions can take time, so be patient
Focus on the moment at hand.
“Young children can struggle to adapt to new environments or new social situations and in these moments I plan to refrain from placing a focus on what is not happening and emphasize what is unfolding in front of me. This year I will accept each transition for what it is: a transition. Our children need our support in different ways at different times and my goal will be to truly listen to their needs and guide them as best I can in each part of the journey. There are a number of important skills and life-lessons that come out of each hurdle and my focus will be on how we accomplish the goal, not on the ways the goal has yet to be achieved.”
14. On your first day alone, stay busy!
It’s going to be so quiet when they’re away at school!
“Moms! If you stay home, plan on running errands or doing something to get out of the house. There is nothing worse than coming home to an empty house so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Psssst! No one is going to judge you if you put on Disney Channel just to have a familiar noise running in the background. If you have younger children, this is their time! Think of it as their ‘only child’ time they never had before.”
15. Reassure your child about how much you care.
“More than anything, let your child know they can talk to you about anything that’s bothering them. Provide them with extra encouragement and a kiss and a hug that first morning of back to school. Tell them you can’t wait to hear about their first day back and that anyone would love to have them as their friend.”
16. Take heart from parents who have been there, done that, cried in the parking lot.
“Your kids are more ready than you think and if they are not, you will get there together. We all know it’s not just a new venture for them but for us parents as well. So cherish all the moments as they grow and learn to flow with the current. YOU WILL BOTH SURVIVE!”