Back-to-school anxiety can be eased by talking with your kids


Dear Adele,

We understand you had successful careers as a teacher and a social worker. We wondered if you had any back-to-school tips for us and our elementary school children? Many thanks.



Dear Preemptors,

How wise you are, to be cutting some problems off at the pass! Every school year brings with it new teachers, new friends and new expectations. No wonder so many children experience anxiety in the fall. With a little bit of thought and preparation, you can help make your children’s first weeks at school much less of an anxiety provoking situation and set them up for success right out of the gate!

The first thing I suggest is to establish good daily routines at home that mimic what the children will be encountering once they start classes. You can practice earlier rising times and earlier retiring times. Your children are likely old enough to have their own alarm clocks. Be sure to also rehearse packing lunches in the evening, laying out their wardrobes and packing their bookbags. The greater consistency you can have with establishing these kinds of routines, the easier it will be for the kids to adjust to the school year.

You will also want to get your offspring organized for school. This includes setting up homework stations which are equipped with appropriate supplies and a computer or device. Be sure supplies are carefully stored for easy retrieval. Check that you have a reliable Internet service, that the children’s computer or device is working and that they can use it. Don’t forget to review the platforms the kids will need to check out meetings and assignments, as well as any websites and programs that the school is using. Keep a password list in a safe and available spot.

Communication with the educators is essential at this time of year. If you are in a new school you might want to visit prior to the first day of classes and have a tour. It is often helpful to write emails to the teachers introducing you and your family. You can mention some of your progeny’s strengths and weaknesses in the learning situation which will be helpful to the new staff to get the students off to a strong start. You could also include any significant changes in your family situation which might affect adjustment at school, such as the arrival of a new baby, a recent move or a divorce. Don’t forget to check out which supplies and books the teachers prefer your children to have. Then enjoy a shopping trip with your youngsters to secure what is needed, within your budget.

Of course, you will need to plan for travel, food and before and after school care, too. If your children walk to school, it might be wise to do a dry run of the route in advance, and possibly find an older child in the neighborhood to accompany them on the walk. If they are bus students, review safety rules for bus rides, as well as run through the walk to the bus stop. Do discuss healthy food choices for lunches and ensure your children have a nutritious breakfast with protein. Children under 12 will need some kind of supervision before and after class time, so do check out the safety, the programming and the training of staff in any afterschool program you may choose.

Another area of preparation that is important is the emotional support you give to your children. Spend lots of time talking to your kids about the positive aspects of school. Encourage them to express their fears and concerns. Let them know that you and the teachers work together to ensure their success and comfort at school and at home. Discuss their feelings often about starting school and any problems they may be encountering in those early days. It may take several weeks for your children to adjust but remember a few bumps are helpful for them to learn how to cope in life, so don’t jump in to solve every small problem.

Finally, be sure to keep lots of family time in your schedule. Family meals are awfully important. Be sure to have fun together as a unit on a regular basis, with such things as board games, bike rides and hikes. I also suggest some device-free time every day when the family can be involved in warm and lively conversation with each other.

An interesting article to supplement the ideas here which you might enjoy reading is ‘14 Things to Do Now to Prepare for Back to School’ by Rachel Brougham. As well, recent columns of mine on the value of the family meal and the problem with overscheduling children might be of use to you.

I will conclude with a few inspirational quotations:

“If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.”— Mark Spitz

“Let us remember: one book, one pen, one child and one teacher can change the world.”— Malala Yousafzai

“Education is the passport to the future for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.— Malcolm X

Sincerely, Adele

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