Everyone has butterflies when they are starting something new. Just make sure you visualize them flying in formation and you’ll be fine.
– My Dad, David Smith from a Dale Carnegie Public Speaking Course
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.
Favorite Back to School Picture Book (for preschool through grade 3):
Penn, Audrey. (2007). The Kissing Hand. Tanglewood Press.
A raccoon Mom and son prepare for him to go to school. She gives him a kiss on his palm. When she’s not with him, he can place the open palm on his cheek and feel her kiss with him.