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It’s back-to-school season for most of us parents, and that means a lot of things: changing routines, separation anxiety, overexcitement, and sleepiness.
Young children can go through so many different emotions when they’re going back to school. You might think it isn’t a big deal to them after their first year – but for most of our little ones, this couldn’t be further from the truth! Just like you are probably going through mixed emotions at this time of year – your child likely does, too.
In today’s blog, I want to talk about what children may feel when going back to school (and why), and how we, as parents, can support them in managing these big feelings.
Common feelings for elementary school children to experience include:
Anything that your child may be feeling right now is okay – there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to feel.
How can you help your child(ren) cope with back-to-school feelings
There are healthy ways that you, as a parent, can help your child deal with any big feelings they might be having about going back to school. Your child is probably feeling a lot of different emotions at once, and you can help them to pick these big feelings apart and start identifying and naming them, one by one.
For example, if you notice that your child cries every time you talk about the first day of school, you might name and reflect the feeling for them: “I think that you’re maybe feeling scared and sad about school. Is that how you’re feeling?” Preschoolers might be too young for complex feelings words, but they can usually understand the basics like “scared” or “sad.”
Once you’ve helped them identify how they’re feeling, try some of these tips to help them get through it.
Helping your child with back-to-school anxiety and fear
If your child is feeling anxious about going back to school, try not to feel overwhelmed. So many of us, as parents, have been through separation anxiety and tantrums during drop on the first day (or weeks!) of school. It can be so painful to see your baby go through this, but there are some things you can do to help ease the anxiety leading up to the big day.
First, find ways to reassure your child in ways that aren’t invalidating. This can be a hard balance; the key is to validate their feelings. Don’t dismiss their feelings, but also don’t forget to communicate your confidence in them.
For example, don’t say: “Don’t be scared; there’s no reason to be.” Your child could experience this as invalidating.
Instead, recognize your child’s fear by saying something like, “I know you’re so scared because you’re nervous about _____ (fill in the blank). And that’s okay. These things can be scary sometimes. But you know what? I believe in you with all my heart. I know that you’re going to do the best you can and I believe you will end up having a great time and make lots of friends.” This validates while still communicating confidence.
You may also want to include your child in back-to-school shopping. Invite them to pick out something special – like a pencil box or an eraser – that they can take with them on their first day. In the therapy world, we call items like this transitional objects. Your child can’t be with you when they’re at school, but they will have this special item to connect them with you and the safety of home.
Helping your child with back-to-school exhaustion
The best way to deal with fatigue or exhaustion when going back to school is to start preparing for the routine changes before their first day. Instead of trying to get your child out of bed on time on their first day back at school, start building schedules and routines a week or two earlier. That way, when their first day comes around, they’ll already be used to the new schedule and – hopefully – not as exhausted.
For example, start your child on a bedtime routine if they’ve moved away from strict bedtimes during the summer break. Add lots of things into the routine that help them wind down; activities like snack-time, changing into their pj's, brushing their teeth and reading a book together or telling stories to each other while in bed. These are just a few activities before bedtime that send the signal it is time to wind down.
For more tips on creating a schedule for your child, check out my other blog post.
Getting back into routines will not only help with exhaustion and sleepiness, but it can also help reduce anxiety. Routines build stability and predictability; when children know what to expect, they feel safe.
What if my child just seems excited?
Many children feel excited to go back to school. There’s a lot to be excited about, from seeing their friends again to learning about their favorite subjects.
If your child is excited for the first day of school, celebrate and lean into it! Enjoy the anticipation and share the excitement with your child.
Sometimes, though, too much excitement can start to get annoying – as all parents of young children know! For example, maybe your child asks you repeatedly and constantly, “How many more days until the first day of school?” If you find yourself getting annoyed by the incessant and repetitive questioning – totally understandable. My recommendation, try to turn it into a teachable moment.
For example, you could get a visual countdown of days – or even a calendar, depending on how old your child is – and teach your child how to use it to find their own answer to their question.
Online support groups for parents in New Jersey and New York
Sometimes the tips I mention above just don't work out the way they should and parents often find themselves needing more support. If you find yourself struggling with back-to-school or any part of parenting, I have many different support options that can help.
For dads, I facilitate a virtual support group for fathers who live in New Jersey or New York and who have children newborn-8 year old's. Our next meeting is schedule for Friday, Sept 15 at 10 am. To learn more click here. To let me know you are interested, send me an email at email@example.com
I also facilitate a Single Moms support group for women of Color. I have one more spot left in the Mom’s group so contact me today if you are interested! Our next meeting is September 16th at 9:15 am.
Lastly, I'm going to host a FREE online workshop in October for parents who want to learn how to manage their child's tantrums and meltdowns. To learn more and sign up click here.
Thank you for reading and I wish you all a successful and stress-free back-to-school!
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