Back-to-school season is in full swing! Many things mark this time of year, from the smell of fresh crayons to picture day outfits to lunchbox notes to All! The! Feelings! Whether your child is excited, anxious, or anywhere in between, here are 10 tips for easing into the new year from Montessori educator and friend of Primary, Kerry.
1. Validate feelings.
While your instinct as a grown-up might be to jump into problem-solving mode, start by acknowledging your child's feelings, no matter what they are. If they're nervous or scared, avoid saying something like, "No, it'll be so fun! Don't worry!" and instead try, "I hear you. Lots of kids feel lots of different ways about going to school, it it's okay for you to feel nervous! You're not alone, and I'm here to support you."
2. Set a routine.
No matter how your child feels about going back to school, any transition will be made easier (for everyone involved!) by setting a consistent routine. After all, who doesn't crave a little bit of control when things feel new and unknown? Things happen and it's important to make space for flexibility of course, but try things like having your child pick out their outfit the night before, waking up at the same time, and leaving for school at the same time.
3. Find a transition object.
If your child is anxious, encourage them to find a transition object: something small that can fit in their pocket, like a rock or piece of jewelry, that they can hold during transitional periods, like the walk to school. These objects are often meaningful, provide comfort, and act as a grounding tool for your child.
4. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 trick.
This trick can help your child redirect their energy to the present when they feel overwhelmed. Encourage them to stop for a moment and identify:
- 5 things they see
- 4 things they feel
- 3 things they hear
- 2 things they smell
- 1 thing they taste
5. Use the buddy system.
Ask your child to identify one person (or more, but all it takes is just one!) with whom they feel comfortable. This includes all types of community members in the school — be it their teacher from last year whose classroom they can walk by, a classmate, or a friend from an extracurricular. They don't need make constant contact with their "buddy," but sometimes just knowing that familiar person exists and is there can provide comfort and ease anxiety.
6. Make time for intentional connection.
Getting back into the swing of a new school year can sometimes feel hectic and rushed, especially in comparison to the laidback energy of summer. So making time for small moments of connection can be quite powerful. Aim for moments like these before drop-off in the morning, or at pick-up in the afternoon, which can reframe these times of day as something to look forward to, rather than something to get done and check off your list. You could start by using questions or prompts like, "Great outfit! Tell me more about how you feel in it and why you chose it." or "What's one thing that made you laugh today?"
7. Plan something to look forward to.
Ah yes, if it isn't the light at the end of the tunnel! Just like you might need a lil' something to look forward to to get you through a busy period at work, having a planned meal or activity can do wonders for your kid's stamina in navigating those first few weeks of school. No need to make it big — a promise to cook their favorite dinner or watch a movie together come Friday night, for example, will do.
8. Go for a quick, firm, loving goodbye.
There can be *lots* of emotions at morning drop-off, from pure elation to teary nerves. Regardless of where your child falls on that spectrum, do your best to keep your goodbye short and loving. Yes, it might feel impossibly hard to do so, especially if your child is upset, but being assertive in this action will help illustrate to your child your trust and belief in them, their teachers, and their school.
9. Be a helper.
If your child is someone who's absolutely *jazzed* to be back at school, we love that for them! Make sure to check in with them as well — talk to your child about how they're feeling, and explore with them how other kids might feel differently. Encourage them to be thoughtful of others. Did they notice a classmate who looked nervous? Sitting alone at lunch? Offer your child a few ideas for how they can be a proactive helper, like smiling at their nervous classmate, sitting at that lunch table, or alerting a teacher or grown-up.
10. Read a book!
And lastly, take advantage of all the amazing stories out in the world! Books are magical vessels for helping kids learn about different perspectives, and realize that they're never alone in their feelings. There are lots of great books about going back-to-school, including Mae's First Day of School, The Day You Begin, and My Name is Yoon.
Thanks so much, Kerry! We're sending good vibes to everyone starting a new school year. Want to read more? Checkout tips for navigating screen time with kids.