With the holidays almost behind us, kids and parents are eager to get the year started. While the holidays have offered a much-needed break from the demands and stresses of school, going back to school is inevitable and is bound to create some butterflies. Of course the uncertainties of Covid means that the school dynamic is even more uncertain and kids need a little more help finding their feet in an already tricky time. So here are some helpful tips to ease those back-to-school jitters and remind kids why school is so cool!
Talk about all those big feelings
Little kids don’t always have the words to explain their feelings. Rather they may act grumpy, get upset or show their unease in other ways like sensory issues which can flare. So give your child lots of opportunities to talk about their feelings and to try to find the words to express their feelings. To get the conversation going you can say things like, “You seem to be a little grumpy lately, I wonder if it’s got something to do with going back to school soon?” This will allow your child an opportunity to say what’s on their mind, or at the very least have the experience of a parent who notices when they’re not ok.
Look at the class list together
If you have access to the class list, this can be a really practical way for your child to begin to visualize the year ahead. Picturing the kids in their class can have a stabilizing effect. If they are anxious about the mix of friends, or whether they will know anyone, then try brainstorming together to find ways of managing any big feelings that may come up around this. The point is not to solve the problem for your child, but rather to offer tools to manage these issues and an outlet to feel them when necessary.
Run through the routines of the week
Holidays are always more casual and relaxed and so it can be tricky to shift gears and move back into stricter school modes of routine. Sometimes these changes can cause anxiety, but other times reverting back to routine can actually contain anxieties. With this in mind, in the build up to back-to-school it can be so helpful to run through the upcoming routines: First think about the daily routine like what time they will wake up, who will be taking them to school, what might happen once there, who will be fetching them etc. Then also think of things on a larger scale by creating charts about the weekly activities that are already in place and brainstorm about what new sport or extra mural your child may want to try the next year. This can encourage your child to be brave by tackling a new skill or returning to something they are already familiar with. This can provide a nice anchor to the week.
Rehearse first day interactions
Some kids battle with basic social interactions so it can be a big help for you to practice tricky first day chats like how to introduce themselves to a new kid or how to ask someone to sit with them at break. This kind of role play can take the mystery out of the moment and furnish your child with really practical skills for the real world.
Get to know the teacher
Usually schools will at least let you know the name of the new teacher of the class. Refer to the teacher by name, wonder together what she will be like and reassure your child that their teacher will be so glad to meet them. If you know anything about the teacher then share that story with your child as a way to make him/her more familiar, even if it’s imagined. If possible, have your child meet the teacher ahead of time.
Remind your child they have support if they need it
Remind your child who they can talk to if things feel really overwhelming. That way they will understand that they have a game plan if things get really sticky. Perhaps your school has a social worker or “feelings doctor” who they can talk to if things become really difficult and reiterate that you will be there to chat to them after school about whatever feels challenging.
The bottom line
First-day jitters are always precarious. Add Covid in the mix, and back-to-school takes on a whole new dynamic with an entirely new set of worries. But while things can feel really tricky, with open channels of communication and some simple strategies, your child will adapt and manage the transition into the new year and emerge even stronger and more independent than either of you ever believed.