Take a look at this article as it might help with those back to school butterflies.
Everyone has butterflies when they are starting something new. Just make sure you visualize them flying in formation and you’ll be fine.
If you are a parent, you are likely in the middle of clothing and supply shopping preparing for the first day of school. There may be more stress around the house as you switch gears from the less scheduled, slower-paced summer routines to alarm clocks ringing early, morning rushes to get out of the house on time, new clothing, new teachers, homework and general exhaustion.
In addition to practical routine changes, you may have your own set of anxieties. For many, work demands increase as fiscal years end in August and begin in September. For fellow educators, we are busy attending or giving professional development courses during the month of August and preparing our classrooms and schools for the students to come. Maybe your child is moving from one school to another as mine is. Maybe it’s a major transition year from preschool to kindergarten, elementary to middle or middle to high school. Because the school community is as much a part of your whole family’s life as it is your child’s, parents naturally have their own trepidations about new teachers, principals, parents, and friends.
How can parents best help deal with the back to school butterflies?
Practice routines and do dry runs in advance. If you are walking to school, try walking a day or two ahead of time without the pressure of needing to get there. Make it fun and stop by the playground and or local ice cream store on your route home. Practice your morning routine in an afternoon before you have to go through it. Try on new clothes, brush teeth, eat breakfast and see if you can make it fun working together to get all you need accomplished. Educators will be practicing routines like getting quiet or putting away supplies in desks at school. Children then know exactly what is expected of them and can go about the routine feeling competent and safe in that knowledge. Why not do the same at home to help your day run smoothly?
Give your child an opportunity to show competence. We saved the experience of E getting his own library card until he could write his full name to sign the back of the card. We wanted him to feel a sense of pride and achievement and it served as a clear goal helping him practice writing his name. He has probably been capable of doing it all summer but I saved the chance for the day before kindergarten. We took our usual trip to the library and I announced this would be the day that he could get his library card. Finding a small way for your child to show they are capable boosts their confidence so that they are ready to tackle the challenges of a new school, grade and teacher.
Recognize and support your own anxieties. Each time I flew on an airplane this summer, the stewardess walked up to me, made direct eye contact, leaned in and clearly articulated that I must put on the oxygen mask myself before helping my son. “Okay, okay,” I thought. “I get it.” As most moms do, I tend to place my son before myself. Your own stress will impact your entire family and the climate that is felt at home. So do something about your worries. Make written lists if that helps organize your thoughts. Journal to get your feelings down on paper versus allowing those thoughts to stew inside you. Make a date with a friend to remove yourself for an hour or two from the pressures of family life. And when you are in a particularly intense moment of worry or anxiety, visualize your butterflies flying in a calm and coordinated formation.
Be aware small issues may cause big upsets. Emotions may be just below the surface ready to appear when any little issue arises. Be aware that those upsets over small things like a spilled snack are ways of releasing some of the bigger emotions that are welling up inside. Your awareness, added empathy, patience and calm will help redirect children and, indeed, all family members back to focusing on what is important.
Create extra time for quiet and rest both for your child and yourself. Days are particularly busy. Homework for some will begin to be assigned on the first day of school. Be sure and allot time for rest and quiet after school and on the weekends. You may provide an after school snack each day. Sit down with your children and just listen. They may not tell you what happened during the day if you ask a lot of questions. But if there is quiet and you simply listen, they may be more willing to offer up anecdotes from the day. Find opportunities to turn off the screens and just allow for reading or quiet play. The investment in quiet time will pay off during the busy days ahead.
Get outside and exercise. Those jitters bottled up inside don’t know where to go. Be sure and encourage children to run around outside when there is the opportunity. The fresh air and exercise will channel the release of anxieties through good fun and play.
Focus on the fun. Because it’s a busy time of year, it’s easy for parents to get caught up in the hussle and bussle and forget to find ways to make back to school time fun. Take a breath and realize your children won’t ever have the opportunity to start first grade again. Make the most of it by appreciating your time together. Find family moments to have fun at dinner or during the usual routines. Turn on some music or buy a special treat for all to enjoy. Savor!
May your back to school experience be joyful for the whole family and may your butterflies fly in formation.
Written By: Laura Lebovitz, LMFT
As summer comes to an end, you may notice your kids are asking more questions about going back to school and may even have some butterflies about all the upcoming changes. Kids may feel worried about having a new teacher, finding friends to sit with at lunch, or even if they will find friends at all. It can feel so confusing for parents to help their kids navigate all of the worries that going back to school creates. You may even feel like you’ve tried everything—tough love, reassurance, bribing—without any success.
Getting back into the school routine is challenging enough without your child experiencing those back to school butterflies, too.
While managing worry is not one size fits all, there are techniques that you can use to help ease the transition back to school.
- Find ways to create stability. Most families become pretty comfortable in their summer routine, so that back to school shift can feel like a hard adjustment. Creating a stable, predictable routine will really help to reduce worries. Try to emulate what a regular school day will look like for the whole family for at least one week before they go back to school. Wake up, eat, and go to sleep at regular times. You can also include practicing the drive to school or the walk to the bus stop. The more worried your kids seem to be, the longer they will need to adjust to their new schedule.
- Go beyond reassurance. Children often look to their parents for reassurance that nothing bad will happen at school. So instead of just saying “Everything will be fine!” try to create a plan with your child about what they could do if something goes wrong at school. Address their specific worries and come up with specific ways they could solve it. So if your child doesn’t know where to sit at lunch, draw a map of the lunchroom and discuss some possibilities.
- Pay attention to how you react. Kids look to their parents when they are worried for ideas on how they should react. If you appear overwhelmed or nervous, they are likely to follow your lead. Find ways to show your kids that you are feeling calm and confident about the new school year. Say a strong and cheerful goodbye. If the goodbyes turn into a tantrum, try to problem solve what they need instead of allowing them to avoid saying goodbye and going to school. You can even enlist the help of their teacher!
- Try to find the positives. Encourage your kids to try to find the positives in the midst of their worries. Find three things that they are excited to do the first week of school. Have them plan their favorite lunches for the first week or lay out the outfits they are most excited to wear. Praise and reward them for any brave behavior they show, no matter how small!
Colin* was starting 6th grade in a new school. At an orientation event, he became visibly unnerved as he struggled with the combination on a sticky locker. “He was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to open his locker with only four minutes between classes,” says mom Lynn Brown. (*Names have been changed to protect privacy.)
Colin’s particular fear is surprisingly common, and so is his apprehension about the beginning of a new school year. Most kids, even excited ones, experience a few butterflies in the first weeks. And the source of such uneasiness is not always obvious to parents.
What kids worry about.
Age, experience, and temperament all determine a child’s concerns. Young children with little experience outside the home may have separation anxiety. “Being in the care of adults other than their parents can be initially stressful for some children,” notes Deb Cockerton, a child and youth behavioral counselor. These youngsters also worry about practical matters, such as finding the bathroom and getting on the right bus.
When they’re a bit older, children worry about whether they’ll have friends in their class and where they’ll sit at lunch. Older tween-age students are “concerned about how they will fit in with their peers, and how they will do academically,” says Cockerton. The start of puberty and issues like cyberbullying, body image, and athletic ability may be additional stressors.
Some worries are not obvious to parents. Kerry Norris, principal and longtime educator, says, “There are always some things we don’t think of as adults…We’ve had little ones who are afraid to flush the toilet in the loud echo-prone bathrooms.” Older kids who are beginning to measure themselves against peers, may feel humiliated if they wear the “wrong” clothes or come to school with a “nerdy” haircut.
Major transitions can cause feelings of insecurity, even if a child has previously done well. Brown says that Colin was “extremely successful and a model student” during his elementary years. Yet, as a kid who “thrives on routine and predictability,” it took time for Colin to adjust to the new academic expectations, the more complicated schedule, and the pre-teen social dynamics of his new school.
Signs of anxiety.
Kids express anxiety in many ways. Some are vocal and quite specific about their concerns. But more often it is a child’s behavior that indicates his distress. Cockerton says, “The younger child can become more ‘clingy,’ not wanting to leave mom’s side.” The tummy ache is a common symptom of stress in younger kids.
Older children can also suffer physical symptoms, such as headaches. They may eat more or less than usual when they’re feeling anxious, and Norris notes they may also experience sleep interruptions and moodiness.
How parents can help.
Kids feel more confident and competent when they come to school prepared. Experts like Cockerton and Norris agree that parents play a leading role in helping kids cope with back-to-school fears.
Here are 11 ways to calm the jitters:
- Talk to your child about what worries her. Provide accurate information if she is misinformed.
Listen carefully and respond empathetically. Avoid saying, “Don’t worry. You’ll be fine!” Focus on your child’s very real concerns.
- Create safe space. The tween who resists face-to-face conversation may “open up” at unexpected moments.
- Look for natural opportunities to listen and check in during daily activities—riding in the car, doing a chore, playing a game.
- Read books. Cockerton says books can give kids “language to express what they are feeling.” School-challenged characters can also normalize a child’s feelings.
List it. Help kids refocus on the positive by listing the things they’re excited about as well as the things that scare them.
- Tour, meet, and greet. Visit the school so your child can see the layout. Make introductions to teachers and other school personnel.
- Play “what if…” What would you do if you forgot your lunch? What would you do if couldn’t find your homework? This technique gets even the youngest kids involved in problem-solving. As Principal Norris says, “Developing the skills to solve problems independently lasts a lifetime!”
- Role play. Act out potentially uncomfortable interactions: What can you say if you want to be friends with someone? What can you do if someone is mean to you?
- Resist overscheduling. Keep extracurricular activities manageable, especially during the first months of school. Kids need down time to unwind and reflect.
- Show confidence. Let your child know you trust her ability to succeed. Remind her of the many challenges she’s faced and managed in the past.
- Check parental fears. As Cockerton says, “Children are very good at reading their parents’ emotions and if the parent is worried about how their child will do at school, the child will interpret that as ‘something to be worried about.’” Resist oversharing your own fears with your child.
- Get help. If your child’s difficulties persist, Brown says, “Networking with the school personnel is a critical piece of the puzzle…Open communication with school teachers, counselors, and others is paramount to ensuring the most successful year possible.”
Ashley Talmadge is a freelance writer and mother of two elementary-age boys. She has found that each school year brings its own set of fascinations and challenges.