Summer is a great time for the kids. They have limited schedules and limited responsibilities. They’ve had long days of playing, camping and campfires, late nights and later mornings. As summer draws to a close and the time for back to school is just a matter of days away, kids and parents alike can start to feel the pressure.
End of Summer
As parents, we look forward to the end of summer with a mix of anxiety, foreboding, and excitement. For many kids, they may groan and complain about the end of summer. They almost certainly aren’t looking forward to homework starting up again. But, at the same time, the beginning of the school year is an exciting time of new beginnings and new possibilities. The beginning of the school year brings the excitement of new teachers, new classmates, new experiences – even new schools. But with the excitement can come a bit of nervous energy creeping in as well. The “newness” of the school year can bring a bit of anxiety along with it.
This anxiety can be fairly mild, like “butterflies in the stomach.” It might include spending a long time picking out just the right outfit. Just the right hairstyle. It might bring a ton of questions (if you have a 7, 8 or 9 year old, you know what we mean). Depending on the kid, they’ll handle this anxiety a bit differently. They might get quiet. They might have some trouble sleeping as the big day approaches. For some kids, it might even mean tears, tantrums or refusing to go to school.
At the end of the day, different ages are going to worry about different things. Preschoolers, Kindergarteners and first graders might have a hard time with separation. Being away from mom and dad or grandparents who they’ve spent the bulk of their summer with, can be hard. Young kids tend to worry about logistics like, “What if I can’t find the bathroom?”, “What if I get on the wrong bus”, or “What if someone isn’t there to pick me up?”
For those changing schools or moving up from elementary to middle school, those kids might have concerns similar to their younger counterparts. “What if I can’t find my classroom?” and “What if I can’t get my locker open?” are common concerns. These kids may have more social concerns, “Will my teacher like me?”, “What if I don’t have any friends in my class?”, and “Who can I sit with at lunch?”
These older kids are more likely to worry about performance and requirements, too. As they start their higher grade, they may worry about the increased work demands, more homework, and harder requirements. They might worry about how others, especially their peers, will look at them. If the child is just starting middle or high school, there may be some worries about being picked on or pushed around by the bigger kids.
So – how can you support your kids and help them cope? Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D. and the author of Smart Parenting for Smart Kids: Nurturing Your Child’s True Potential, has five tips to help them get through.
1. Acknowledge your child’s feelings.
“Don’t worry. It’ll be fine,” minimizes your child’s fears, and could just prompt an argument. It may be a better approach to acknowledge that they’re a bit scared. You might consider something like, “You’re nervous about starting at the middle school,” or “You’re worried because your friends from last year are mostly in a different class.”
“Just hearing that you understand can often ease the burden of worries for children,” says Dr. Kennedy-Moore.
2. Schedule the schedule
You might consider providing as much predictability and control for your child as possible.
“This might mean visiting a new school before opening day, finding a photo of your child’s teacher on the school website, or printing out a floor plan of the school to let your child plan a route between classes,” suggests Dr. Kennedy-Moore.
Depending on the age and the summer they’ve had, you might think about starting up a regular bedtime routine a couple of weeks before school starts. Helping your child lay out clothes the night before and working on organizing school supplies can be a great way to spend time together and talk about the fears that your child is feeling.
3. Plan for rough water
Some kids have very specific fears. Things like, “What if I have no one to play with at recess?” can be a big source of anxiety. Planning for these rough patches and helping your child prepare for these kinds of things can be a big help.
“Ask what they could do in that particular situation,” says Dr. Kennedy-Moore. “Help your child brainstorm specific solutions and offer suggestions, if necessary.”
For example, on the playground, your child could stand in line to use the slides or swings. Perhaps they can find and join a game of basketball, tag, or four-square. They can also scan the playground for another child who seems to be looking for a playmate. For younger kids, it can help to point out that teachers, aides, and even the principal will be able to help and to make sure that things go smoothly. For older kids, it can help to remind them that other kids will be dealing with the same things.
4. The more things change, the more they stay the same
As parents, we’re sometimes guilty of saying things like, “When you’re in grade X, things will be a lot different!” This can be nerve wracking for kids. Instead, emphasize continuity, rather than dramatic changes, says Dr. Kennedy-Moore. Ask your child, “How different are you the day after your birthday compared to the day before?” This can help the child understand that while he or she has actually aged, they haven’t really changed all that much from one day to the next. Working with them to help them understand that moving up a grade works in much the same way can be a big comfort for some kids.
Dr. Kennedy-Moore says, “You might want to tell your child, ‘Your classmates are the same kids you saw in June. Year to year, there are big differences; month to month, not so much.'” She continues, “You could also tell your child, ‘Just like you managed the transition from first to second grade, and second to third grade, I’m sure you’ll manage this transition, too. It’s just another step on the same path.'”
5. Stay positive, but realistic
Children tend to look to their parents to help gauge how dangerous a new situation is. Kids love it when you’re confident in them. Share with them how confident you are with their ability to cope with this big change. When we’re calmly optimistic that your child will manage the back-to-school transition, it can make it easier for your child to be hopeful, too.
Dr. Kennedy-Moore shares, “You might need to help your child accept that it sometimes takes time to get used to new situations. For kids worried about changing classrooms, you might say, “Right now, the idea of changing classes seems scary, but my guess is that after a few weeks, you’ll be used to it, and it will seem like no big deal.'”
Reminding them that they’ve already successfully navigated big changes like this in the past can help. Tell them a story of when they met a new friend with the moral of the story being, “You coped back then, and you’ll be able to cope now.”
What kinds of back-to-school traditions do you use to help your kids celebrate the new school year? Share your best tips in the comments!