Welcome to my back-to-school series! Whether you’ve started school already or are gearing up for the first day, there are lots of things to think about and get ready for. This series addresses some of the issues I’ve faced from anxiety (both kids and mine!) to the dinner menu to fixing lunch. Check it out and let me know if you have any amazing tips for managing back-to-school!
Getting ready to go back to school is hard on both you and the kids. There are a few things you can do to ease the transition and help to mentally (and logistically) prep both of you for the first day.
The anticipation is really building at my house as the first day of school gets closer. At this point, we’re less than a week out and there are lots of concerns:
- There’s nothing to wear!
- I don’t have the same lunch period as all my friends!
- My schedule is too hard!
- I don’t have the right school supplies!
I asked a good friend for some advice that I could include here and share with you all.
Elizabeth Worley, LPC with Flip Consulting and Counseling* in Raleigh recommends that parents work with their kids to create realistic and clear plans around homework, breakfast and lunch planning and household responsibilities. The more involved the kids are in setting up the systems, the more likely they are to be active participants in the process, hopefully leading to less harried mornings.
“Transitioning to the new school year is challenging for both parents and their kids, so expect a certain amount of disequilibrium.” Says Elizabeth. “If your child seems to appear more anxious than you would expect him or her to be, set aside some time to do something fun and relaxing that might allow some space for conversation about what is going on. As a parent, it is hard to relax and wait for our teens to talk, rather than opening with a barrage of questions, but it is so important to be present, rather than being an expert at this time in their lives. Having two teens myself, I continue to learn this lesson on a continual basis! The calmer we remain, the more likely they are to talk and share.”
Over the years – and especially since the beginning of Middle School a few years ago – I have also developed some tricks for easing into back-to-school in a way that negates some of the terror and lets the kids know that I’m on their side, and that they’re more ready than they think they are.
- Talk about the daily routine.
Discuss with your teenager (or pre-teen) what mornings before school are like. Remind them how it used to work last year. Talk about what worked before and what didn’t. Talk about what is different this year.
Some questions you might ask:
- What would they change from last year?
- How can we make mornings easier?
- What about evenings?
It’s important to voice how you see the process working, but to also listen to their version of that same process. You can bet that they’ll want to sleep as late as possible and do the absolute minimum of movement in the morning. So talk about what that means for the before-bed routine and how you both can work together to make mornings tolerable for you both.
- Talk about the first week of school.
Discuss with your teen what they expect from the first week of school and all that has to happen. Address classes, friends, teachers, rides (bus or otherwise) extracurriculars, and anything else that comes up. As the conversation goes on ask about what they might be excited about, or anxious about, or what they are completely clueless about.
Honestly, some teens won’t discuss these things with you, and don’t try to make them if they resist. But you’ll put into their mind that these are THINGS. So maybe they won’t be surprised or shocked when these THINGS come up. And when they know that you know they are things, they might connect the dots and understand that maybe you went to middle school or high school once and maybe you could help. [But seriously, don’t hold your breath. There’s little chance that a kid who doesn’t want to talk today will miraculously want to talk next week, but hey, you’re trying, right?]
- Talk about a typical day at school.
Mentally have your teen walk you through their schedule. Where is the class? How will they get there? Do they know anyone in this class? Who will they eat lunch with? Will they bring or buy lunch? What are the unknowns about the day that they might need to spend some time figuring out?
Now talk about what they’ll wear, what will they bring with them, what do they want to eat (for breakfast, lunch, or dinner).
I know a lot of you are shaking your heads at me right now. Who talks to their teens for this long and doesn’t end up having a fight or having them tune out and go back to their snapchat? I’m not suggesting that you do all this at once. It’ll probably take all week to have these conversations. But I’ve asked my kids about their schedules already and they literally launched into a giant discussion of teachers, friends they know are in the same classes and other topics that gave me a good idea of how they felt about each class and teacher. I made some mental notes of things to follow up with them on. At the very least, you’ll be showing some interest in their life, which isn’t likely to go unnoticed. And if you’re lucky, you’ll both learn something about each other and be better prepared for the next school year!
Want more information?
Edutopia, the website for the George Lucas Foundation provides excellent ideas for kids of all ages transitioning back to school and even changing schools. Check out the suggestions at http://www.edutopia.org/article/back-to-school-resources-parents
And, if you or your child are experiencing severe anxiety or unusual levels of stress in dealing with the back-to-school routine, it might be a good idea to discuss these issues with your pediatrician.
*Elizabeth is a mom of two teens and a therapist with Flip Consulting and Counseling in Raleigh and Cary. Flip provides social skills groups for elementary-aged children and individual counseling for children and teens. For more information, check out Flip at www.flipconsultants.com