Let’s face it: A lot of parents worn ragged from long summer days with schedule-free kids look forward to the rhythm and routine that returns with the start of school. Kids, on the other hand? Not so much. And in those cases, there isn’t a back-to-school shopping spree or Minions-themed lunchbox cool enough to get them excited about hitting the books again.
Luckily, we’re here to help. Read on for four tips that will squelch some of the back-to-school-itis so your kid will actually look forward to school (and you can finally regain your sanity).
For many kids—especially those changing schools or just starting kindergarten—back-to-school nervousness is really just a fear of the unknown. And based on the child’s grade level, parents can provide a overview of what to expect that will typically put fears to rest. “For example, you may want to say something like, ‘First, your class will gather on the yard, and all of the children will say the Pledge of Allegiance, then you will walk to your new classroom,’” says Dr. Fran Walfish, Beverly Hills relationship psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent.
Walfish also suggests discussing some of the feelings your child may experience at school, in order to help normalize the experience. “You might say something like, ‘You may feel excited or even a little nervous or scared,’” Walfish explains. “’Those are natural feelings that everyone feels on their first day at school or in a new job.’”
Listen to your child
Once you’ve given your kid an idea of what to expect at school, it’s still important to listen intently as they verbalize their concerns, says Renaye Thornborrow, founder of the Austin, Texas-based Adventures in Wisdom. The company—dubbed as life-coaching for kids—used a story-based program to help children conquer life’s challenges, including difficulties in school.
“Just as with us parents, it’s unhealthy for children to keep their concerns and worries bottled up inside, so take some time out to talk with your kids,” Thornborrow says. “If your child doesn’t feel like talking or is having trouble opening up, have him write about his feelings, have him draw a picture, or read a story with him that discusses the topics of worry, fear or change. Helping your children ‘name and claim’ their feelings is a big first step to helping them feel more empowered about going back to school.”
Create a plan for success
“Once you know what’s troubling your child about going back to school, you can then help him make a plan to overcome the challenge,” Thornborrow says. She suggests hiring a tutor to help throughout the year if reading or math struggles are an issue, or reminding your child about past successes in making friends if meeting new classmates is the source of concern.
“If possible, try to arrange a get together with one or two new classmates some time before school starts, so your child can feel more at ease on the first day,” Thornborrow adds. “Helping your child visualize the positive aspects of going back to school—such as learning new things, doing well on a test and making new friends—will also help him see the benefits during this time of transition.”
Change the narrative
As a parent, you may be completely unaware of the source of your child’s back-to-school nervousness. But, says Dr. Chester Goad, an education blogger and former K12 principal and teacher, parents can play a significant role in their kid’s school anxiety. “Perception is everything,” he explains. “Often, we celebrate the ending of a school year and the commencement of summer so much that we send a negative message about school in general.”
Goad suggests having positive conversations that actually build excitement around the start of school. “Reversing the narrative can go a long way to easing back into school life,” he explains. “Consider counting down the days ‘until you get to meet your new teacher,’ etc. Generate positive excitement by visiting the school or attending school events, or by having back to school parties. As parents, we’re responsible for setting the tone about school, and although parents also get anxious, it’s our job to reassure. That includes carefully choosing our tone and words about school and sharing excitement instead of concern.”