If only it was as easy as it looks in the Staples commercials – breezing through the aisles with visions of your kids happily heading back to school. For many kids and parents, alike, back-to-school is filled with anxiety. Whether it is a kindergartner, just entering school, a middle-schooler in the throes of adolescence, or a high school junior facing what could be their toughest year… back-to-school is chock full of uncertainty about academic expectations, social interactions, and time management. Here are some steps that parents can take to lower back-to-school anxiety.
Start early – Begin prepping a couple of weeks before school to keep tensions down. Nicholas Strouse, Director of Westport Family Counseling, recommends, “Give yourself enough time to plan… it’s unpleasant to feel like you are cramming to get everything done, last minute… parent’s anxiety effects kids, and visa versa.” It’s unnecessary to be so stressed out, before school even begins. So, “Give yourself plenty of time,” says Strouse. Plan to buy clothes, and supplies, and look at your schedules, in advance.
- Know the exact start date of school, classroom, and teachers. So much stress is due to the “unknown.” Simply having the key facts can make a big difference.
- Consult your schools’ websites for forms or notifications you may have missed. Especially with the cut back in mailings, the website is a vital resource. Check it now… and, make checking the website a part of your weekly routine, throughout the school year.
Build in fun – Make shopping an adventure rather than a chore. Try to pick a time in advance of the first day of school to get some supplies out of the way. Same goes for clothes; get some shopping out of the way early, but leave time a few weeks into September to fill out the wardrobe. Of course, food and shopping go together, so build in a lunch or light dinner break… or, consider post-shopping decompression, at the yogurt or ice cream shop.
Use visual cues – We all love electronics, however…Did you know that big, bold and highly visible handwritten calendar notes and bulletin board alerts work wonders for keeping families organized. Therapy studies are filled with proof: more organized = less stress. Use white boards, cork boards, blackboards (or, blackboard paint) to create an area for posting important dates and appointments… as well as, “Do not forget” notes. (These boards are also terrific for all kinds of messages: “Congratulations!”, “Good luck!”, “You’re a Star!”)
Involve both parents – One of the most common mistakes family therapists see is a lapse in communication between parents. Whether both parents work, or one stays at home, everyone needs to be involved. Both parents need to have key dates on their calendars – orientation, first day, back to-school night, games, plays, concerts, et al. Even if a parent can’t attend, proactively (rather than re-actively) acknowledge what is occurring in your child’s life. This can instill a sense of caring, which can reduce a child’s stress level.
Planning – The first 2 weeks of school are crucial. So, plan a little flexibility as everyone settles into the new routine. Keep your calendar a little freer, during this important “settling in” period. Then you can see more clearly how and when your child will need you throughout the quarter or semester, and plan your days…and nights accordingly.
Your home may not bounce to the soundtrack of the Target back-to-school ads, but there can definitely be a more upbeat tone set for everyone, as your family starts the school year.