7 ways to ensure a no stress back-to-school transition
Transitioning from fun-filled, sunny summer days to a structured back-to-school schedule can be hard on everyone in the family. Of course, it’s tough to trade in those all-day pool hangs for tests, homework, and responsibilities, so it’s important to give your child or teen the tools they need to empower them to take on a new year in the classroom with confidence.
Navigating your child’s big feelings
Whether your kiddo is headed to preschool or their senior year, a huge part of going back to school is coping with ALL of the subsequent emotions, like overwhelm, fear, dread, and hopefully some excitement!
Remember all of the anxieties surrounding what to wear on the first day, where you’d sit at lunch, who your teacher would be, and what class you’d be in? Whew! Your child is likely asking themselves these same questions, so a great way to show up is by simply recognizing and empathizing with what a big time this is for them. Maybe you can dust off an old yearbook and show them what you looked like when you were their age.
If your child is feeling anxious about heading back to the classroom, begin to ask them open-ended questions about what is going on for them. Try your best to listen and repeat back what they’ve said so that they feel heard and understood.
We know it’s tempting to dive in with solutions and advice, but just sitting with them and giving your full attention can go a long way in helping them feel supported. They may need time and space to manage big emotions, so let them know you’re there anytime they want to open up and don’t force them to communicate their feelings until they’re ready.
You can also connect by sharing a time that you had fears surrounding a big transition, like going to school or starting a new job. Let them know what helped you get through those more difficult moments and reassure them that what they are feeling is understandable and completely normal.
Try our top back-to-school parenting tools
Big transitions aren’t easy for anyone, so remember that it’s not going to look perfect and there will be messy moments. Thankfully there are realistic steps that you can take right now to help your child gear up for the school year. Here are our top tips for ensuring your child is a back-to-school superstar.
- Get organized together. Before the school year starts, talk with your child about ways to help them get (and stay) organized so that they can better manage their responsibilities and priorities, while also making time to do the things they love. Consider letting them pick out a day planner or a calendar for their wall to help keep track of homework deadlines and extracurricular activities.
Help your child review their class syllabus and get familiar with absence policies, class rules, and their supply list so that they have all of the information and tools to feel prepared for their first day. You can even request to take a tour of their school or meet with their teacher ahead of time.
- Practice your routine. Transitioning from easy, breezy summer days to jam-packed school schedules can be stressful, but predictable routines make children feel safe and can make it all feel more manageable for you.
Work together as a family to establish a daily routine that will include things like wake-up time, school arrival time, dinner time, homework time, chill time, and bedtime. You can post the routine (with pictures for younger children) on the wall in your home so that everyone can see it. Invite your child to make their own version for their room too!
Sure it won’t always run smoothly, but it can help to set expectations so everyone is on the same page. You may want to start practicing the new routine a few weeks before school starts to avoid such an abrupt shift.
- Set tech boundaries together. Screen time doesn’t have to be a constant struggle. Try creating a family media plan so that you can set clear, realistic limits together about the use of devices like phones, tablets, and television. Talk about app limits, parental controls, no tech times, and ways that you can all use technology in healthier ways. Limits help children feel safe and teach them how to self-regulate and everyone will feel empowered by being able to participate in the conversation. It’s not about NO screen time, but regulated screen time everyone understands.
- Seek out supportive communities. Having a safe, nurturing community which can include parents, siblings, teammates, teachers, mental health professionals, friends, and neighbors can make a huge difference in fostering healthy adaptability. Encourage your child to join groups or try out hobbies or sports that interest them. Feeling like a part of a group or team can help children build social skills and confidence.
And, don’t forget that you need support too! Line up additional child care if possible, ask your partner to step in, or reach out to a fellow parent if you need extra help throughout the busy days.
- Make time to connect and check-in. We know life gets busy, but try spending one-on-one time with your child or teen each day simply listening to them, asking curious questions about their daily experiences, and letting them know that they are loved and valued. Notice when they are most open and communicative (typically bedtime, at the dinner table, on the drive home from school, while eating a snack, etc.), and try to adjust your schedule and put away distractions to protect this window of time. You may get an eye roll or a sarcastic response, but know that being there is still making a big difference.
- Validate their experience. Remember that something like not getting invited to sit at a specific lunch table may not feel like a big deal for you, but to a kid or teen, it can be all-consuming. Instead of dismissing how they feel, look for ways that you can help them to label what they’re experiencing and find some tools that can help them begin to regulate their emotions.
- Create calming rituals. As you’re well aware, emotions may be running extra high during the start of the school year, so try putting some calming rituals into place:
- Teach your child affirmations. Encourage them to use uplifting statements like, “I am brave,” or “I am smart,” anytime they need a confidence boost. You can even give them Post-It notes to write their own words of encouragement and hang them where they can see them every day.
- Design a Calming Corner. Help your child or teen design a comforting, quiet space to return to anytime they’re feeling overwhelmed. It can be a designated space anywhere in your house and can include books, blankets, pillows, journals, headphones, speakers, twinkle lights, a sound machine, an essential oil diffuser, and other belongings that make your child feel comfortable.
- Practice breathing exercises. Box breathing is a great go-to tool when everyone needs to calm down. Imagine a box has four sides. Think about breathing in for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 4 seconds, letting out your breath for 4 seconds, holding for 4 seconds, and then doing it again 4 times. Model this for your child the next time you’re having a big emotion, and see if they’ll give it a go with you.
- Get out in nature as a family. Walks are a great way to get kids to open up about whatever is going on with them, so try incorporating one into your regular routine. If possible, consider walking your child to school or taking a stroll together after dinner. Spending time outdoors has the power to calm both our bodies and minds (here’s more on that!).
Your child has likely faced and overcome difficult challenges and transitions before, so they can certainly do it again—especially with your support. Remind them of the times they persevered through tough times or changes, knowing you’re helping them to build the confidence and skills that will carry them for a lifetime.
If your family could use some additional support, reach out to our team at Bend to learn about our School Supplies: Navigating Back to School Stress ––a two month program that combines live coaching sessions with engaging learning experiences to teach and reinforce goal setting, establishing support networks, mindfulness to decrease stress, organizational planning, and balancing technology.
We’re here to help you through every season of parenting.