Sleepovers, pool parties and relaxing family vacations will soon be replaced by classes, homework and exhausting soccer practices.
And early morning wake-up calls might lead to early evening meltdowns.
“Sometimes, late in the summer, kids and parents go into anxiety mode,” said Shauna Adams, associate professor of early childhood teacher education at the University of Dayton. “Going back to school can put pressure on kids and parents alike.”
But getting into the back-to-school routine doesn’t have to be stressful.
A successful start to the school year will take some planning.
“The best thing a parent can do is prepare for it,” said Mary Beth DeWitt, pediatric psychologist at The Children’s Medical Center of Dayton.
DeWitt suggests gradually getting children to bed and waking them up earlier. Parents should also make sure their children know what their back-to-school schedule will entail.
“Changes in a routine make all of us uncomfortable,” she said. “You want to take the uncertainty out of the equation.”
Attending the school open house, visiting the classroom and meeting the teacher are all ways to help minimize uncertainty. Even spending time on the school playground or taking a quick walk to the bus stop can help put your child’s mind at ease.
But the kids might not be the only ones dealing with back-to-school anxiety. With seemingly endless school supply lists, new school clothes to buy, plus a stack of forms to fill out, lunches to pack and parent meetings to attend, it’s easy for mom and dad to get overwhelmed. Planning ahead can help parents save time, money and their sanity.
“You don’t have to be super parents,” Adams said. “Figure out what the must-haves are and go from there.”
Talk it out
If anxiety is an issue for your child, the first step is determining the cause.
“Is it the social aspect of school? Is it the academics? Or maybe, it’s the food,” Adams said. “It’s imperative that parents understand their kids, and then they can help them.”
If your child is worried about reconnecting with classmates, you could plan a play date with some of their school friends so they have a chance to reconnect. If it’s school work that has them worried, look over a few of last year’s assignments to help put them at ease. And if cafeteria food is a concern, plan out brown bag lunch options together. Just practicing opening their new combination lock might relieve a great deal of stress.
“It’s good for kids to know that their parents are their biggest supporters,” DeWitt said.
Despite all your best efforts, all might not go according to plan.
“Most parents should expect a little irritability and fatigue as their kids get adjusted to the school schedule,” DeWitt said. “It’s a lot to juggle to get back into a routine, but kids are going to follow their parents’ lead, so try to stay positive.”
Communication will be critical in the coming weeks.
“Make sure to find a regular time to talk with your kids,” Adams said.
Family dinner is ideal, but with sports, band, school activities and work schedules, that might not always be practical. Adams regularly enjoyed evening tea with her daughters. Breakfast might also be a good time to talk. And if your questions about “how was school” are answered with “fine” or “OK,” try asking “what was the best part of your day?” or “what is your favorite class so far?”
And be aware that a full slate of extracurricular activities could be too much for some children to handle.
“If you’re seeing more arguing and defiance from your kids or if they seem overwhelmed, you might want to think about whether or not you really need all of these activities,” DeWitt said. “If you’re overwhelmed or stressed just driving them from one thing to another, they probably are, too. It’s all a balancing act.”
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