7 Tips to Beat Back-to-School Jitters

Strategies to be prepared for the new school year

scared girl getting on school bus

A new school year has arrived with lots of changes for kids — some exciting, some bewildering. Kids have a wide range of concerns about school and so do parents.

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Different ages, different worries

Child psychologist Wendy Cunningham, PsyD, says there are many reasons for kids to get back-to-school jitters.

Younger school children may be anxious about being away from Mom and Dad all day. Elementary school kids worry about their teacher and if they’ll get to see their friends. Middle-schoolers fret about getting homework and possibly changing classes for the first time.

Tips to help overcome jitters

There are ways to prepare and plan to help ease the stress of being in school again. Dr. Cunningham offers these tips to help you and your kids deal with those back-to-school jitters:

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  1. Prepare ahead of time for the routine. Plan ahead and gradually transition your kids’ sleep patterns back to the school schedule. Talk through the routine for the morning and how kids will be getting to school: bus, carpool, walking, etc. Agree on expectations and schedules for doing homework assignments and how to get help if necessary.
  2. Involve kids in the planning. “Allowing kids to be involved in the planning increases comfort and motivation,” Dr. Cunningham says. Let your kids pick out the specific items they would like from the list of school supplies needed such as backpacks, school clothes, lunch box/bag and pens. And from whatever food options are available at school, let kids pick out what they would like for breakfast and/or lunch.
  3. Help kids get familiar with their new surroundings. If your kids are starting middle school and have to switch between classes for the first time, get involved with school open houses. Go with your kids as they find their locker and learn the path they’ll take between classes. Let them take the lead in finding the way, but you’ll be there to answer any questions that may come up. 
  4. Empathize with any worries or concerns. Have kids talk about their worries and show that you are listening and understanding. “Your first response should be an empathetic one rather than jumping to problem solving or dismissing a concern,” says Dr. Cunningham. Talk about past school transitions and how were they handled. Brainstorm what worked best or how the process was managed effectively and eventually mastered. 
  5. Meet the teachers and school staff working with your kids. Overall success in a school environment should be a team effort. “By meeting staff, you can provide reassurance to kids that you’re interested in what their experience will be,” Dr. Cunningham says. Teachers and school staff often have valuable observations of how children are doing academically, socially and emotionally. 
  6. Review options for extracurricular activities. For after-school activities, “go for quality versus quantity and monitor your child’s schedule — as well as your own— to guard against over-scheduling or stress due to time constraints,” Dr. Cunninghams suggests. “Extracurricular activities are a good opportunity for kids to learn additional skills for physical activity, socialization, time management, a creative outlet and developing outside interests.”
  7. Manage your own anxieties. If you as parents appear worried, concerned or stressed about the approaching transition back to school, kids may follow your lead and feel the same way. Remember that your kids benefit from seeing you feel confident and calm about the transition.

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