Will my teacher(s) be nice? Where will our classroom be located? Will I get a lot of homework? Who will I eat with at lunch? What will I eat at lunch? Who will I sit by on the bus? Will my daughter learn what she needs to? Will she make new friends? How will we fit family time into our schedules?
Starting the school year can be a time of high anxiety for children and parents alike. As a high school teacher in my 11th year of teaching, I can pick up on the signs fairly quickly: perhaps a student asking for directions on the first day of school or even asking me where he can pick up his schedule all while avoiding any eye contact, or a parent emailing seeking information about my credentials in teaching students with ADD. And as a mom, I am empathetic to both of these situations because starting a new school year can be, well, scary! The unknowns are what causes the most stress, but rest assured, there are ways to reduce back-to-school anxiety—read on!
Reducing Student Anxiety
- Get the Schedule
The best way to reduce back-to-school anxiety is to first get your student’s schedule. Every year I see students who show up on day one and have no schedule. This is the surest way to create a ginormous amount of stress for your student! If your student didn’t receive his schedule in the mail, drive to the school to get a copy (call ahead to make sure there is someone who can print a schedule). The main office is the best place to start.
Once you have the schedule in hand, let your research begin! Go to the school’s website to find a district calendar, a bell schedule, a map of the school (print two copies, one for you and one for your student), information about before and/or after school care, lunch and breakfast menus, information on special services, and information about teachers. Almost all school websites now offer a picture of each teacher. Facial recognition helps lower many students’ anxiety levels.
- Plan a visit to the school
This is a time to ask any questions that you have looming and a time to put that map to good use. Most schools are open for tours prior to school starting as long as you check in at the main office first. Some schools have administrators who take parents and students on tours, others let you go on your own. Make sure that your student is confident that he can find his classroom(s), the lunch room, the library, the gym, the main office and multiple restrooms. Being lost on the first day of school can cause outright panic for students.
- Friends and Lunch. Ugh.
Lunch can be the most stressful part of the day the first few days of school. Unfortunately, as parents, we can’t go to school and help our children find friends to eat lunch with or friends to sit by on the bus—well, we could, but it just wouldn’t be cool! Instead, we can provide our children with the skills needed to make friends quickly and easily. For example, teaching children basic conversation starters like: “Hi, I’m Susie. Can we eat lunch together?” or “Hi, may I sit beside you?” or “Hi. Do you want to be friends?” It sounds simple, I know, but practicing these conversations at home builds the confidence to do it on their own at school.
Reducing Parent Anxiety
- Meet the Teacher
Some schools offer back-to-school night before the first day of school. If your school offers this, attend. This is the best way to see, meet, and interact with the person or people who will be your new village. These people will be helping to shape your child—you should be on a first name basis. If you aren’t able to attend, send an email introducing yourself. It’s also nice to ask if your student’s teacher needs any extra school supplies or tissues for runny noses (these things are relatively inexpensive and are always needed). The key to meeting to the teacher is to establish a positive relationship right away.
- Scheduling family time
Family time becomes tough when school starts and as the schedules seem to build up; however, it shouldn’t be forgotten or put on the back burner. According to New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Rubin in Happier at Home, we should protect our children’s free time. So often, parents fill every ounce of free time that children have with piano lessons, baseball, gymnastics and soccer. Instead of filling the schedule to the max, protect your children’s free time and allow it to be family time. In fact, schedule family time in your master calendar.
- Creating a budget
Create a budget and stick to it. Calculate how much your children will need for school lunches (or those that you pack from home) each month, set a limit on how much you will spend on school supplies and new clothes (consider shopping consignment), and budget for other fees that will pop up (PTA dues, club membership dues, sports physicals, technology fees, etc.) A well planned out budget equals less stress!
- Food Prep
This one is my favorite. No one wants to come home to a house full of hungry family members only to realize that you haven’t thawed anything out. Thus, food prep is key to less stress. Spending a day making up freezer meals in advance is a hack to help with those panic situations. Pinterest provides great freezer recipes for breakfasts and dinners. Crockpot cooking requires a little more planning the morning of, but it too proves to be a real time saver!
I have learned that the best way to reduce back-to-school anxiety is to research and plan ahead—to answer and plan for as many of the unknowns as possible. Though researching and planning may be exhausting, there is nothing better than a positive start to a new school year!