Even though it feels like it just started, summer will be over before you know it. While some students may be excited to head back to school and see friends they’ve missed over the summer, many others worry about returning to the classroom. This back-to-school anxiety may be even more pronounced for students starting at a new school or kindergartners going to full-time school for the first time.
Transitioning from the laid-back days of summer to a full-on school routine can be challenging for children of all ages, even if they’ve been doing it for years. Whether your child is worried about the social stresses that come with middle and high school or just not happy about having to wake up early again, it’s important to not dismiss their feelings. With mental health concerns rising in K-12 students across the country, helping students cope with back-to-school anxiety can be the first step in creating healthy habits.
Prepare for Success
The good news is that preparation makes a positive impact on starting the school year off on the right foot. Even if you haven’t pulled out the summer reading list yet or spent the summer working to prevent learning loss, there are still many easy steps you can take to ease your child’s back-to-school anxiety.
Start a Bedtime Routine
Enforcing bedtimes can be challenging on the best of the days, so getting students ready for their new school schedules requires a little extra work. One or two weeks before school starts, start making bedtimes progressively earlier until you get to the time your kids should be going to sleep during the school year. Do the same thing with morning wakeup times. If possible, also try to serve meals at the same time you’ll be doing so during the school year.
Do a Test Run
Many schools have special events before classes start where students can visit campus, meet their teachers, and get to know their way around. Schools may also offer special tours for new students or allow students and parents to walk around campus during registration days. Think of what your child will be doing daily and run through it with them, like finding their cubby or locker, the cafeteria, bathrooms, and where they’ll go at dismissal time.
For older students that are driving to school, make the drive a couple days before school starts to make sure they know how to get there and where to park. Make sure to do this test drive at the same time they’ll be leaving home during the school year so they can get a good feel for the traffic they’ll be dealing with.
Establish the Rules
Homes run differently during the summer than the school year. Sit down with your child and lay out what the expectations will be once the school year begins. Can they watch tv before doing their homework? Can they go out on school nights? What are chores going to be like during the school week? Work with your child to come up with rules that you both think they’ll be able to handle, explaining your reasoning behind why it’s so important to have routines during the school year.
Stay Connected to Your School
Do your part as a parent to make sure you complete the important forms and paperwork your child needs for the first day of school, as well as submitting any required payments. Keep track of important updates from their school regarding first-day procedures and processes, COVID protocols, and more. Many schools now have apps, like the FACTS Family app, that allow parents to submit payments, see important announcements, and access forms right from their phones. If an app is available, make sure to turn on notifications in your phone settings so you don’t miss anything.
Dress to Impress
If your child’s school doesn’t require uniforms, take the stress out of the first day outfit by picking it out far in advance. Let your child wear something special on their first day, whether it’s a piece of jewelry they got as a souvenir on summer vacation or a special outfit you shop for together. This is also a great way to get in the routine of choosing outfits the night before to avoid chaos in the morning.
So much of school anxiety is related to social situations and friendships. If your child hasn’t seen their friends much over the summer, arrange a time for them to get together and re-connect before the school year begins. You can even host a back-to-school party to celebrate the starting of a new year and how exciting it will be. Remind your child that even if they’re not in the same classes as their friends, they’ll still be able to see them over the weekends and stay close.
If you’re new to the area or your child is starting at a new school, find a community event or sport to get them involved in before the first day of school so they’ll have a friendly face or two in class. Many schools even offer buddy programs or special meetups for new students. Check with your child’s school to see what they’ve established to welcome new students.
Letting students pick out their own school supplies can get them excited for the new school year, plus reassure them that they’ve got everything they need for their first day. If their school allows, let them pick out a fun pencil case, backpack, and lunchbox in their favorite color or with a special character. Turn this shopping trip into a fun tradition by going to a special lunch or getting a sweet treat on the way home. Once you get home, make sure they know how to use all their supplies safely.
Keep Summer Fun Going
Summers can be a great time for children to discover things they truly enjoy. If your child loved swimming all summer, consider registering them for a swim team with an indoor pool that allows for swimming year-round. If your child spent their break curled up with a book, look into youth book clubs in the area. Let them know that the activities they enjoyed don’t have to stop just because summer is over. Continuing a favorite summer hobby into the school year can make the transition even easier.