Depending on your child's personality, any sort of transitional period can be met with some anxiety and trepidation. The back to school season may be particularly nerve-racking for kids—the change in routine, an unfamiliar teacher, new classmates—it's a lot to absorb all at once. Even children who are excited about being reunited with their buddies or embarking on a new year of learning can struggle those first days back. And, kids aside, parents have to get back into the swing of things, too, allotting time for increased traffic on the roads, homework, and stricter bedtimes.
With all of this in mind, how can we make back to school a smashing success this year? Experts and seasoned parents share their tried-and-true ways of alleviating the stress and making way for fun.
Paint a picture of what's to come early.
"I'm a big believer in setting expectations with my kids every day," says Krista Rizzo, Founder/CEO of Why Am I Yelling. "It helps them visualize how their day is going to look, so they are prepared, and I start early."
Rizzo explains that during the final weeks of summer she begins broaching the topic of school with her children to help mentally prepare them for the more structured days ahead. She covers upcoming school schedules and excitement about potential extracurricular activities that might be of interest. In addition, Rizzo administers summer homework so that ritual isn't lost during the months of fun in the sun.
"I find that when we keep the communication about expectations going with our kids, they are better prepared for any experience," she says.
When children have something familiar and fun to look forward to related to a particular time of year or event, it creates an emotional and sentimental touchstone. Creating a back to school tradition that offers bonding time for you and your child doesn't have to be an over-the-top bonanza, but rather a simple activity that's made special because it's your time together.
"I take each of my kids back to school shopping separately—a mommy and son afternoon," says Rizzo. "We start with lunch, followed by shoes, and clothes, and finish with ice cream! It's a fun day that allows us the ability to connect one on one while also getting them prepared for the upcoming school year."
Rally your carpool in advance.
Last fall, more than 50 million students hit the books at public elementary and secondary schools, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That equates to a ton of school buses on the road and what can feel like an excruciating amount of time in the car line. If you're a first-time carpooler or have an kiddo anxious, it's helpful to reduce those nerves in advance.
She also advises using back to school as an excellent time to check out how well your child is fitting in their car seat, and address how everyone in the group will be buckled for the drive.
"Most importantly, let them know to always ask an adult for help and if you're late at the end of the day, not to panic or be upset," says Pinkerton.
Don't be afraid to advocate for your child.
Depending on how your school handles class placements for its students, receiving the news about which teacher will be educating your child for the next year can either be exhilarating or downright terrifying. Some personalities mesh better with others, and some kiddos can thrive in any environment. If there's any concern about finding the right fit for your student, feel free to speak up.
"My youngest is going to a new-to-him school so we are really focusing on having him placed in the right classroom and getting the help he needs to have a successful year," says Meredith Daniel, a mom in Mullica Hill, New Jersey. "My oldest is at a stage where he's figuring out who he is and what he wants to do. My goal to make this coming year great is to really listen to my kids. I'm trying to focus on what they need/want, rather than what I think they need/want."
Feel free to commiserate.
Not to beat a dead horse, but change is hard for kids and parents. While we try to be strong to settle the nerves of our offspring, it's okay to let your guard down, too. In fact, it may go a long way in making them feel better about their own concerns.
"Let your kids know that you get nervous, too, and share with them your back to school nervous experiences from your youth," she says. "This will help them feel like you truly understand what they're going through. It also sends the message that they shouldn't be ashamed of their anxiety. Talking about it is the most important thing you can do. Working to remove the embarrassment that lives around anxiety is something I'm super passionate about and I can't stress enough how important it is to keep them talking!"