New pencils, new shoes, a new backpack – back to school can bring all sorts of joy for kids, families, and teachers alike. But it also comes with added expenses, added stressors, and added chaos for those same folks. Take it from a mom and a mental health professional on how to make Back to School just a little less stressful for you and your kids.
Practice the school routine before the first day: Changes in schedules and routines are oftentimes really stressful for kids and families. If your kids have spent all summer on a slower schedule, now is the time to start practicing earlier bedtimes and earlier wake ups. Go through a “dry run” for a week or two before school starts to get kids ready to tackle their mornings with fewer frustrations and meltdowns. Have them pack their backpack and pick out their clothes each night, get up to eat breakfast, brush teeth and comb hair, and put on those shoes! You can even make a game of it – running through the entire morning routine, hopping in the van or walking to the bus stop together, and saying “Great work guys! You got ready so well that we’re actually three days early!”
Talk to your kids (and listen too!): The best thing you can do as a parent or caregiver for a child (regardless of the age!), is to talk with them about their thoughts and feelings and really hear them when they tell you their experiences. Ask kids how they’re feeling about back to school. What are they most excited about? What are they most nervous for? Who are the most looking forward to seeing again? And so on, just to get them talking. Once they share some of those thoughts and feelings, it’s really important that you validate them. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them! It just means that you let them know you’re hearing them! If your child says, “Third grade is going to be way too hard for me!” You could say something like, “You’re really worried that this year isn’t going to be easy for you. It seems pretty overwhelming right now.” After validating their feelings (give plenty of time and space for this), you can then start to shift to helping them look at things through a more adaptive or resilient lens. Pointing out to them times when they were successful or when things worked out well for them. For example, “You thought second grade was going to be so hard, too. But remember how it started out hard, but got easier as you learned? Think of all the things you learned last year! That beautiful brain of yours is going to learn so much again this year!”
Reach out for support when you need it: From school supply drives to meetings with school counselors and teachers ahead of the first day, there are lots of people and organizations in our community who are looking to make back to school easier on kids and families. If you need support but aren’t sure where to turn, call 2-1-1 to ask about resources. If you’re worried about your
child’s mental health, give your school counselor a call. Many schools in the area are putting mental health therapists into buildings to support families in accessing mental health needs without burdens on families like having to take off work or coordinate transportation. Tanager specifically is in eleven different districts across Eastern Iowa, and other providers may be in your child’s school! If your school doesn’t have a therapist in the building, you can seek out a mental health assessment at Tanager or other local children’s mental health providers to determine if your child’s anxieties or stresses may need additional care. Finally, if you want some additional tools for your back to school self, please check out Tanager and Meraki’s Back to School Toolkit.
Here at Tanager, we are wishing you all the best for back to school. May all the shoes in your house be easily found, and all the teeth be brushed without a million reminders. (I’m hoping for the same in my house!) And if it feels too hard or too heavy for you or your child, reach out!
This editorial was written by Maggie Hartzler, Clinical Services Director