As the summer season comes to an end, emails from school administrators begin to trickle in, and school supplies shopping commences, anxiety around your children returning to school may set in. Negative, anxious thoughts such as catastrophizing and all-or-nothing thinking may begin to appear in anticipation of family schedule changes, hoping for your child's happiness and success, as well as welcoming in new routines, teachers, and possibly even schools. It is important to remember that you successfully persevered through this transition every year, and you are not alone in these feelings of uncertainty. Anxiety around transitioning back to school is a universal experience parents often cycle through annually. Despite these fears being a normative experience, this does not mean parents must suffer through it. Recognizing that you are struggling with back-to-school stress is the first step in implementing tools to help reduce negative thoughts and make the process easier.
Creating New Back to School Routines
Back-to-school stress is often caused by making sense of many changes at once and being in transitional limbo before the new school routine is set. A helpful way to streamline this transition is to walk through your child's day together. This can take the form of printing out your child's class schedule to talk about their anticipated daily experience in the building or attending meet and greet night at the school so you can walk to each classroom, special activities room, and cafeteria. Gathering teacher and guidance counselor contact information is also important and can comfort you as a parent so you can easily reach them with questions or concerns. Make time at the end of each school day to check in with your child to learn what happened during their day. Start the bedtime and wake-up schedule a few days before the first big day.
Talk with your child the night before a school day,
Give them two viable options and let them choose what time they would like to get up
Ask them to lay out their outfit for the next day
Ask them what they would like to have for breakfast
This will allow your child to feel included in the often-difficult morning routine and lay out a clear game plan for you. For a fun activity with your child, decorate a family calendar to keep in a communal location, laying out each family member's schedules, extracurriculars, and appointments so you and your children can see what is to come in the next few weeks.
Adding time for self-care is just as important as building the family's new routine. Planning a weekly fun activity for you all to do once a week after school can provide parents and children with something to look forward to consistently. A new activity can be set each week that can be as simple or elaborate as you desire. While self-care can, of course, be enjoyed with your child, it is important to work on activities to be enjoyed by yourself.
Allowing yourself one enjoyable task each day can help relieve stress. Reading, watching an episode of a favorite show, listening to music, scrolling on your phone, physical activity, or simply making your favorite coffee in the morning are some examples of self-care tasks you can incorporate during your day. If your anxiety levels are particularly high, take the time to ground yourself by using deep breathing (inhale 8 seconds, exhale 8 seconds) or five senses techniques (Acknowledging five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste). Simple mindfulness exercises can elicit calmness and reset your perspective on the day.
Building a Sense of Community
In addition to what you can do at home to help yourself through this transition, fostering a sense of community can also alleviate feelings of isolation in your back-to-school stress. YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram have self-help content created by parents who share stories about what has helped their families during this annual process. Online parent social media groups are great resources for finding parents in your area, building support systems, and sharing advice. Make a playdate for your child and invite their friend’s parents to stay and chat over coffee or tea. Getting involved at school or helping run an event your child is participating in reduces separation anxieties for you and your child and structures school as part of your family’s greater community.
Experiencing back-to-school stress is a normative part of parents' lives. Utilizing the outlined coping tools may relieve you and your family from negative feelings during this transitional period. However, if your negative feelings of anxiety persist and affect your ability to fulfill responsibilities, it may be time to ask a professional for help.
At Ebb and Flow Counseling and Coaching, we understand the unique pressures and anxieties that come with the transition to a new school year. Our dedicated team of professionals is here to support you every step of the way. We offer individual counseling sessions that can provide you with the personalized guidance you need to manage your back-to-school stress effectively. Reach out to Ebb and Flow Counseling and Coaching, and let us be your partner in finding peace and balance in the midst of the back-to-school whirlwind. Let's navigate life's ebbs and flows together, ensuring you and your family thrive during this transition.
Remember, you're not alone; there's always a path forward. Contact us today to begin your journey towards a happier, more harmonious back to school experience for you and your child.