The phrase “back to school” invokes many emotions for both parents and children. Some may feel excited, relieved, nervous, unsure, and perhaps a combination of a few of these or even some emotions I have not listed.
The best approach when dealing with transitions, especially one like “back to school,” is to prepare but not over-prepare. What I mean by that is- it is important to recognize that change is happening; at the same time, however, we must acknowledge that we cannot plan for every situation. The goal is to validate everyone’s emotions — your child’s and yours (yes, yours too!) so, you and your child can progress through the change.
Here are some quick suggestions that you can implement a week before school.
1. Start to readjust to your child’s school sleep schedule. For younger children, you do not need to explain why you are doing this — let this be a natural thing you are conscious of vs. saying “We need to go to bed earlier because school is happening soon.”
2. Read some books that focus on separation anxiety. An early childhood favorite is “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn. The author’s story can serve as a reminder to our children that even if we are not physically with them in school, we are still thinking about them.
3. You can get matching items for you and your child so there’s a tangible way to feel connected. Some ideas: jewelry, notebook, a photograph, keychain, sticker placed in the same spot etc.
4. You can draw a picture or write a note to place in your child’s backpack (or he/she can leave it in his/her cubby). If you choose this option, remember to make a few copies in case the item is lost or damaged in the school bag (we’ve all experienced the leaking water bottle, right??).
5. Share with your child how you are feeling a few days before school begins (preferable not before bedtime). By sharing how you are feeling, you are showing your child that ALL emotions are normal especially during transition times. There’s no need to make this a specific conversation — you can share it casually without expecting your child to share in return. The following are examples, please use your most authentic style when relaying feelings so it feels natural for you and your family. You can even reflect on a past back to school experience for you or a more recent change that felt like a transition with varying emotions.
a. “I really enjoyed the summer where we had a lot of time together. I am feeling anxious that school is starting because it means I need to wake up earlier to get you ready for school.”
b. “I am really excited that school is starting soon. It’s a new year and change brings a lot of energy for me.”
c. “I am feeling very confused- I love camp and I also love school. Why can’t there be both at the same time?”
d. “I remember when I was going to school. I remember doing laundry early in the week so I could save my first day’s outfit.”
e. “Remember when I had to change my job; I had to learn a lot of new things — it was really overwhelming… I even went to the wrong floor on the first day!”
If you think your child may need more time transitioning to school, please let your child’s teacher know so they can anticipate your child’s needs. Some helpful tips to share with teachers include favorite books, home activities, email a few pictures from your summer, things that your child likes to do (i.e., some children prefer books, other children prefer to play with a toy, while others. prefer to take a quick walk to relax). Communicating all of this to your child’s teachers is invaluable.
Jessica Bartel, an educator, parent coach, and consultant, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She works to tailor specific strategies for each family’s specific situation.