Back-to-school tips for parents


Dear Adele,

The back-to-school season is upon us! Every year I worry about the start of school for my children and try to anticipate all the things that might be anxiety producing for them. I know you had a career as a teacher and wonder if you have any tips for me to make the start of school for my elementary school children a bit smoother?

Worried Mom


Dear Worried Mom,

The back-to-school season, although one of my favourites, was always a time of conflicted emotions. While I loved the red and orange autumn leaves, the smell of new school supplies, and the excitement of greeting eager new little ones into my class, the Labour Day weekend was often an anxious sleepless one. After a long absence from school, facing a new crowd of children was, as Mark Twain said, like trying to hold 35 corks underwater at the same time. So, believe me Worried Mom, anxiety is something teachers feel at this time of year, along with you and your children. They definitely can empathize.

I do have a few tips for you, which might help make your children’s return to school less anxiety provoking.

This year, the first day of school will not only be filled with yellow school buses, box lunches, new textbooks, new friends and new teachers but it will be accompanied by the threat of the Covid-19 Delta Variant virus. Because our children are unvaccinated and the variant spreads quickly, it is hard to predict with precision and accuracy exactly what school will look like this year.

Be prepared for last-minute changes, in-person learning and remote learning possibilities, mask wearing, social distancing, handwashing and an unpredictable school year. Rest assured that the professional teachers in charge of your children will do everything possible to keep your offspring safe, happy and advancing their knowledge despite the impact of Covid-19 and its variants.

Try to communicate with your children about the nature of school this year due to the virus, so that they will be able to roll with the punches when change happens. Practice active listening to your children’s feelings and reassure them that they will get through this and be successful. Use the unexpected nature of the school year as an opportunity to teach your children how to express disappointment and frustration in a positive way. Help them learn to reframe negatives and think positively. This will build resilience in your children and help them to be happier individuals.

Covid-19 and its variants aside, try to be prepared and anticipate what school will be like on the first day in other ways. Your children might have more confidence if you help them foresee possible situations and be ready for challenges. No doubt they are wondering what class they will be in, what their teachers will be like and who will be in their class with them. For sure they are wondering what kinds of activities they will be involved in and whether they will be successful.

Sometimes it is helpful to share a personal experience of an anxious time in your life. This lets your children see that anxiety is normal in new situations and that it can be managed. When you stay calm, cool and collected in the face of anxiety your children will model on this and handle their own anxiety better.

A shopping expedition prior to school is a tradition for most families. Children often like to have a new outfit to wear to school, so they feel they look their best when meeting a new teacher and new potential friends. Parents do not need to go overboard with new clothing though. Usually, the clothes children have will see them through several months of school. You might be surprised to know that teachers are often more pleased to see children in comfortable, easy to care for clothing which lend themselves to easy movement for activities, and the wear and tear associated with play and interesting activities in the classroom such as painting and gluing. In my opinion, it is better for a child to have a few rough and tough stylish outfits that they really do enjoy wearing, rather than a closet full of name-brand outfits which are chosen by their parents, need special handling and cost a fortune.

Many parents try to involve their child in purchasing school supplies, backpacks and lunchboxes before school starts. While these kinds of purchases will be necessary you might want to wait until the first week of school to buy them. It is my experience that most teachers in elementary school send home a newsletter to the parents in the first week itemizing, among other things, the type of school supplies the teacher prefers for his/her classroom. For example, one teacher may prefer a notebook for each subject, while another prefers a duo tang with a loose-leaf for each subject so handouts can be integrated easily into the file. It is far easier for a teacher to teach a classroom of elementary children to be organized, and set up their notebooks efficiently when the whole class has the same materials to work with. So, I suggest you wait for the newsletter to come home and then go shopping for what the teacher suggests or requests.

It is always helpful for young children to have simple predictable routines. I suggest you have a pretend day for school and practice the getting up on time, the big breakfast, packing the lunch and bookbag, walking the route to school, the daycare or to the bus stop, and pre-visiting the school either in person or virtually. A physical visit to the school might allow a look at the school library or the school gym where activities will take place, as well.

At home, it is helpful to go over the self-help skills needed for independence at school with younger children. Can they handle dressing and undressing themselves, handwashing, toileting and managing the containers in the lunchbox? Do they know how to pack the backpack and is it properly labelled with their name and school in case it is forgotten on the school bus or playground? Can they prepare a well-balanced nutritious lunch or snack?

If you plan to drop your child off at school on the first day, do be on time, have any forms provided by the school ready, and don’t plan to take this opportunity to discuss your child with the teacher. Be sure your child knows his teacher’s name, and once he is delivered to the school, do leave. The first day of school will be highly organized by the professionals who will care for the children for the year. You can safely leave your child in their capable hands and take some time for yourself. Maybe go home, pour yourself a cup of coffee, put your feet up and relax. In my experience the tears sometimes associated with leaving mom or dad when starting school dry up in minutes after the parent leaves, and the teacher moves the young child gently and empathetically into an activity with other kids.

I hope these tips will be helpful to you Worried Mom. I know you want the best for your children and so do the teachers. I will leave you with a few inspiring quotations about education.

Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.” — Robert Collier

Education is the key to unlocking the world, a passport to freedom.” — Oprah Winfrey

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

Sincerely, Adele

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