For many youngsters and teens, it probably feels like summer vacation just started. But now it’s time to shift gears and start thinking about classes, books, and memorizing locker combinations. While some students are excited about the start of the new school year, others likely have reasonable apprehension. That’s completely expected, and The Calli Institute wants to help with ideas for minimizing back-to-school dread.
Going back to school is often a time of both excitement and stress. Students look forward to seeing friends again but getting back into the school routine can be a struggle. And this is especially true after the distance learning and other regulations due to COVID.
Some students – and adults – may still be adjusting to social norms and interacting with others. Going through this process is different for everyone. Kids have gotten used to not being able to see friends or sit in the classroom. The pandemic uncertainty has caused a host of anxiety, even for kids.
Despite stressors new and old, we have some tips on ways to help your student feel more relaxed heading into the new school year.
The idea of going back to school is one thing. Getting used to early mornings and after-school homework sessions is another thing altogether. Re-establishing a routine is important for reducing anxiety because your student knows what to expect and is well-rested to tackle each new day.
Try to get your child back on a consistent sleeping schedule slowly so that the change doesn’t have a dramatic effect. Different age groups require a certain amount of sleep each night to be rested and ready to learn:
Gradually set a bedtime 15 minutes earlier every few nights during the couple of weeks before school starts. Your child can adjust to the change and be ready to go when that first day arrives. Also, plan to get your student out of bed a little earlier during this time, so the early morning alarm on Day 1 doesn’t come as a shock to the system.
Set rules for after-school routines – homework, screen time, meals with family – at the start of the new school year. Within a few days, everyone should be re-acclimated to the school year habits and less anxious about each day’s expectations.
If your student is starting a new school or is overly stressed about the first day, take some time to do a trail run. Get up early and go through the morning routine. Bring your child to school and let them figure out geographics of the building, especially if this is a different school district or their first year in middle school or high school.
Practice drop-off and pick-up procedures, so your child knows where to meet you and when. Have a new driver in the family? Let him or her practice driving to school to get comfortable with the route and the traffic. Ask your child if there are other things to go over that might help them feel less anxious about the first day.
Children mimic the behaviors they see in adults. So, be sure you’re expressing positivity when it comes to discussions about school. Be enthusiastic when asking your child what they’re excited to learn about or which activities they want to pursue. Keep them focused on the good, fun things like being with friends, being creative in art class, learning new things, or finding amazing books in the library.
Once the year gets underway, try to maintain that positive approach. Inquire about their day and the inspiring things that happened. Ask about new friends or favorite teachers. Find out what they’re learning and what they can teach you.
Everyone gets first-day jitters to a certain degree. Let your child know that other students feel the same way and that these feelings are common. Friends can help settle those nerves, so suggest that your child meet up with pals before school or during lunch.
Try to set up times to allow your students to reconnect with old friends to get reacquainted before the first day. That way they’ll have a refreshed support system in place and will feel less nervous about heading back. For younger children, try to obtain a class list so your child can establish connections ahead of time.
Children want to be heard – and to know they’re heard. When your student tells you about first-day fears, listen and be interested how these feelings are expressed. You don’t need to have the solution but often a sympathetic ear is enough to help children work through their own thoughts. Recognize their anxiety and offer encouragement that you believe in your child’s ability to handle it. Try to casually ask questions to get your student to talk about their feelings. Sometimes even just getting things out in the open helps ease one’s stress about a situation, like the first day of school.
Anxiety about new things – and a new school year – is normal. But be aware of some signs of concern, such as:
If your student still has difficulty adjusting after two or three weeks, you may want to reach out for advice. Your child’s doctor or the team at The Calli Institute can provide helpful ways to reduce anxiety, minimize back-to-school dread, and get your child back on track. Our mental health professionals take a personalized approach to wellness and believe that even the smallest change can make a big and lasting impact. Reach out to us today to learn more.