Working Through the Back to School Jitters for Parents and Students

Deanna Macioce, MS, OTR/L

The “back-to-school” grind brings a mix of emotions to both students and parents. It seems as if the parents are the ones running around making sure that everything falls into place—from school clothes to supplies to all the ingredients needed for a good healthy lunch. Parents carry a ton of anxiety on how to transition from summer to school mode, and students carry anxiety about all the “newness” of the school year. Parents play an important role in helping to transition into this phase. Especially for those children who struggle with difficulty during anxious situations, parents can help foster a positive attitude as well as ways to keep their child calm.

So parents, before that first day starts…

Do Not Share. We always talk about sharing and being helpful, however in this case, keep it to yourself. Keeping your stress about all the to-dos and extras that come with starting back to school under control is key. (With that said, you need to use your personal outlets to relieve that stress.) Allow your children be part of the back-to-school process so that excitement can build.

In addition, if you are unhappy about a teacher or school policy, keeping those feelings away from your child will help to allow your child to form his or her own feelings and thoughts. You are allowed to validate their feelings; however, help them to find a positive way to cope. In addition, the way you present some of the possible negative parts will lessen their anxieties if done in a positive manner. Therefore, if it is something that may add anxiety to your child, do not share it with your child!

Get Organized. We are all looking for a reason to clean up and organize (usually it is the time that is hard to find), but taking a little bit of time to organize closets with appropriate, well-fitting clothes can be helpful. It will lessen multiple clothing changes during the morning mayhem. Arranging clothes in a manageable spot to allow your child to help out with the morning routine can be beneficial. Have a specific place for ongoing items, such as uniforms, book bags, lunch bags, etc. This will help both you and your child know where things should go when they get home, and exactly where to find them in the morning.

Shop. If possible, stock up on what you will need for the year ahead. Get through buying all the necessary school supplies as well as extra glue, pencils, markers, etc. This will help if your child ends up needing a replacement at school and also give you materials at home for homework and school projects. And it saves you the late-night run to the store.

Plan. Schedules are busy in almost every home. Having a weekly plan for school projects, extracurricular activities and sports, as well as lunches and meals, will help keep the flow of the house moving. It also helps to have clothes picked out and lunches made the night before. Putting in a few extra minutes at night can take away a lot of the morning chaos, keeping both you and your child less anxious.

Find a good place for your child to do homework each day, making sure it is free from extra clutter and distractions. Typically, younger children do homework best with a parent nearby, so it may be right in your kitchen. Older children should have a place where extra distractions from others is minimal. In addition, have a crate of common supplies needed, lessening the need to get up during assignments. In addition, having a set routine for when homework gets done allows your child to know when they need to sit and attend.

Planning also includes helping your child to know what to expect. If possible, ask the school if you are able to find out a class list early so that your child could spend time with classmates during the summer, especially if he or she is in a class without a lot of close friends. If need be, ask your child’s teacher before school starts for classroom expectations, as well as a daily routine/class schedule.

If heading to a new school, try to get to the building to walk around and orient your child to where classrooms, bathrooms and lunchrooms are.

Once you have these things planned out, walk your child through the routine and allow him or her to give you input. This will help children feel they are part of process of getting ready for school and take some of the anxiety away as well as not feel you are telling them what to do.

Strive for Balance. This is often difficult for adults, but allowing children the opportunity to balance responsibilities of school, home and activities with fun will help lessen the burden. Prioritize what needs to be done and when.

Allowing children some downtime to play after school, especially outside, will help re-energize them after a long day and help them get focused for homework.

Encourage play that incorporates concepts they are learning at school.

Focus on Health. The statistics anywhere will show you that having plenty of sleep and balanced meals will help with the learning process. Therefore, if a child had a busy day, allowing him or her to stay up for “downtime” will actually do more damage. Try to encourage your child to get to sleep, and bake-in that downtime for the next day.

Making sure children have a breakfast that is high in protein will bank up their energy to get through the day. Also, make sure their lunches include a balance of fruits, vegetables and protein, leaving a little room for sweetness.

Filling your back to school “toolbox” with the right tools will make the transition smooth for everyone. And most of all, having a positive attitude is key for everyone!