Experiencing back-to-school anxiety is a common reality for many parents and children. By addressing the sources of anxiety—both external and internal—families can face the school year with more confidence. Externally motivated anxiety often comes from feeling powerless over the environment and circumstances around us. Much of this anxiety can be mitigated by simply being prepared and having a plan. Internally motivated anxiety comes from unresolved “what ifs,” unfamiliar situations, and unknown outcomes. Families can alleviate or prevent these types of anxiety by taking simple steps to plan in advance. Here’s a checklist to help you and your family to feel confident and prepared for a great start to the new school year.
Two Weeks in Advance:
- Finish shopping for school supplies, including any uniforms or other school clothes. Avoid the anxiety of last-minute shopping runs and competing for what remains on the shelves in overcrowded stores.
- Complete any paperwork required for the school. Get familiar with current school policies and procedures so there are no surprises. Read, review, and sign any required paperwork. Finally, ensure your children know if there are any papers that must be handed to their teachers.
- Obtain the list of apps that will be utilized in each child’s classroom. If any are unfamiliar, watch YouTube tutorials about how they are used. Try to practice in advance.
- To mitigate anxiety about what everyone will be eating that first week, plan out the first week of meals. Here are three examples of doing this on a budget:
- Establish and begin the school year’s daily routine, including bedtimes (especially for elementary-aged children), so the adjustment can be gradual.
- Make a master calendar with all the school events you’re already aware of, and make sure every member of the family has access to the calendar.
The Weekend Before:
- Have each child pick out what they’d like to wear on their first day.
- Use the meal plan to purchase and prep lunches and dinners together.
- Go through each child’s school supply list with them, having them inventory each item.
- Catch up laundry—making sure everything is clean, folded, and put away.
- Time to clean! Clean, organized spaces alleviate the anxiety caused by not being able to find important things.
- Set any alarm and reminder notifications for wake-up, pick-up, and activity times.
The Night Before:
- Pack lunches. Set backpacks by the door.
- Confirm that all wake-up alarms are set.
- Confirm ride schedules (car pools, bus schedules, walking routes, etc.)
- Take turns asking and answering two questions:
- What are you most looking forward to this year? Affirm all answers.
- What are you concerned/anxious about? Facilitate a problem-solving conversation to help them come up with answers to the scary “what ifs”.
- End the day with a relaxation technique together—such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or guided meditation. These techniques can help everyone relax and reduce anxiety symptoms. Here are two examples:
- Get a good night’s sleep!
The Big Day:
- Parents: get up as early as necessary to not feel rushed. This can set the tone for the rest of the family.
- Put on some music everyone in the family enjoys, to set the mood while getting ready.
- Set packed lunches with backpacks; make sure everyone wakes up at their appointed time.
- Set aside 1-3 minutes to do an affirmation exercise or morning prayer together. Here are some to choose from:
- Follow the plan, but bend with the surprises!
Communication is Key
As parents, one of the most empowering tools we have is open communication with our children. By fostering a supportive environment where children feel free to express their feelings and concerns about school, we pave the way for a boost in their confidence and connection. Active listening, combined with reassurance and empathy, can truly make a world of difference.
It’s also beneficial to keep the family focused on strengths, achievements, and positive experiences. Taking a moment each week to celebrate each other’s successes not only reinforces confidence but also fosters optimism in the face of challenges.
And always remember, there’s no shame in asking for help. If back-to-school anxiety continues to be a significant hurdle for any family member, considering professional support can be invaluable. Every child and parent is unique, and it’s essential to tailor strategies to fit the individual needs of your family.
With mutual support, understanding, and a proactive approach, families can greatly reduce back-to-school stress and anxiety, setting the stage for a successful and joyful school year.