Back-to-School Jitters and How to Handle Them

It’s that time of year when stores have stocked up on school supplies, reminding us that the end of the summer is drawing near, and thoughts begin to turn from vacations to reentering the school rhythm. This transition may be exciting, but it can also cause anxiety for children, pre-teens, and teens alike—and their parents, for that matter! Here are some recommendations from Rachelle Honohan, LCSW, for reducing back-to-school stress and creating a smoother transition to the academic year for your family.

1) Grab a Calendar and Check In
To help your child prepare for school, pull out the calendar and talk to your kids about when school is starting. Let them know how many days of summer they have left, have some conversations about the change in routine, and listen for any emotions they may be experiencing. Many kids may have nervous feelings about the change in routine and the unfamiliarity of the new school year, especially if they are transferring or have graduated to a new school. Find times for some “dates”; pick an activity your child enjoys, whether that’s going to the pool, bowling, hiking, or having a picnic. Put the technology away to be totally present with one another and ask your child how they’re feeling about school starting soon. Not dismissing these feelings and providing reassurance will help your child feel supported as they begin their new school year.

2) Reintroduce Routine
Your family has likely enjoyed the change of pace over the summertime, whether it’s been relaxed and casual or full of fun vacations and summer camps. As you approach the first day of school, start reintroducing structure in your home. Talk about the morning and evening routines of the school year with your child. Even if it hasn’t changed much from last year, a refresher will be beneficial. Here are some sample routines to get you started.

Morning
Wake up
Get dressed
Eat breakfast
Brush teeth
Talk about the day and say prayers
Get backpack and head to the bus/car

After School
Snack and break
Start homework (pending the amount, build in breaks)
Play outside / extra-curricular activities
Dinnertime

As you think about your family's evening routine, keep in mind that as challenging as it can be to get kids in bed, their sleep is their brain food! 6- to 13-year-olds need 9-11 hours of sleep a night, while teens need 8-10 hours. Encourage your kids to limit their screen time as they prepare for bed. Remember that as students get older, homework time can spill into the evening; have conversations about your child’s study skills and homework expectations.

Evening
Family time (read, play a game, watch a show, etc.)
Finish homework
Shower/bath, get dressed
Read/snack/pack backpack up
Brush teeth
Pray
Lights out

3) Get Organized
Help your child feel prepared for school by gathering and organizing supplies. Most elementary and middle schools will have supply lists online before school starts, while high school teachers may give out class lists over the first few days of classes. Letting your kids pick out some of their school supplies can be a great way to encourage healthy independence and responsibility.
After school starts, sit down with your kids and help them get their notebooks organized for school. Each student develops their own way of organizing their things, but check in with them to make sure their style is working. Middle school is sometimes the first time students switch classes and keep up with several teachers. Following up with them after the first week or so gives them reassurance that they can be organized. In high school, students may have A days and B days, which may allow them to take fewer things to school each day. Some students like to have two backpacks—one for A day, and one for B day. Talk with your child about what’s working for them and remind them that it may take some time before they find a system that works best.

4) Big Transitions: Middle and High School
While back-to-school stress is common regardless of grade, as children start middle school or high school, their anxiety may be higher than other students. It’s a good idea to take advantage of back-to-school events at your school, including orientations or “camps” where your student can go to school early, mingle with their peers, get familiar with the campus, and possibly walk their schedules. If the school has a copy of the floorplan, you might consider getting a copy and highlighting the rooms your student needs to go to, just in case they get lost during the first week or two.

Keep in mind that as kids move from elementary to middle school, or middle to high school, they will likely push for more independence. This is a natural part of their development, and some added independence can be provided within reason. Work with them to make compromises and give them choices.

5) Open Communication
Teachers love to see parents involved in their child’s academic life. Find some healthy boundaries of staying involved in your child’s life at school while also letting them work out issues on their own. Some awareness about how your child is doing in school and assistance in communication and time-management will help your child develop good study habits and foster responsibility. Check in with how they are doing academically and emotionally, and remember that as they return to their school schedules and habits, it may take them a while to find their rhythm. Talk to them about their concerns and schedule in some quality time to spend with them.

Most back-to-school stress is transitory and will dissipate as your child begins their new school year, but some kids may experience more stress and deeper emotions than expected. If you notice your child getting upset or angry about going to school or isolating, these new behaviors may be a sign that they are struggling with something emotionally. This is a great time to have an open conversation with your child about their feelings. Expressing how you cope when you feel overwhelmed and upset can be a great way to validate your child's feelings and support them, and this may help them open up about what they are experiencing. Riding in the car could be a great time for a conversation, because less eye contact can make tough emotions easier to talk about.

At times, kids may avoid discussing emotions with their parents, and if that's the case for you, we encourage you to reach out. Abundant Life Counseling is here to provide a safe place for your kids to open up, explore their feelings, and learn some effective coping tools. We are ready to walk alongside you and your child to help your family find greater fulfillment and joy, in and out of school.

It’s natural for students and parents to feel some stress as the school year approaches, but you can follow these tips to ease the stress. The more open and engaged you are with your child about their concerns and fears, the better they will do. Listening and supporting your child will make the transition easier and help your relationship grow stronger. You can do this and so can they! Good luck!
Rachelle has been with ALCS since 2017 and counsels clients from our North Austin location. She works with children and adolescents and their families to help them understand behaviors, improve communication, and establish boundaries within relationships. For more information about Rachelle's practice, click here. To set up an appointment with Rachelle, call us today!

Resources for further reading
Boundaries with Teens by Dr. John Townsend
Boundaries with Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
The 5 Love Languages of Children by Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Ross Campbell
The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers by Dr. Gary Chapman
Parenting Teens with Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay

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