Are You Emotionally Ready For School To Start?

This is part of the series of back-to-school posts which will continue through August to help you and your little ones prepare for the annual September routine. Click the “school” tag for more.

You know it’s coming…the new school year is just around the corner! If you’re like many parents, you may have a mixed bag of emotions. Excited to get them back into a routine and have a more structured flow to the days, but maybe dreading all the extra work for them (and us)!

There is no shortage of “back-to-school” tips right now. It’s important to think about adjusting bedtimes, buying back-to-school clothes, and the like. I am proud to say I grabbed all the school supplies at the end of July (a first!). But still, I’m not feeling ready! This led me to think about less-well-known parts of back to school readiness, like what I’ll call “emotional readiness”.

Every new school year means our kids are getting older, which is exciting and sometimes a little nostalgia-producing. Sometimes in the rush to find the #2 pencils, non-wheeled backpacks, and the “cool” jeans, we miss the big picture. We don’t think about the emotional impact of what’s going on, just checking off items on the list. Then if we find ourselves frantic or weepy or irritable, we wonder what happened!

One factor affecting how “emotionally ready” we feel is the extent to which there are any big changes coming. Maybe (like me) one of your children is entering a “transitional” year – first year of preschool, or kindergarten, or middle school, etc. Or maybe it’s not a “transitional” year, but you’re switching schools due to a move or a better fit in the new school. These situations each have their own unique challenges and opportunities, so take some time to think about these. You can talk to others who have gone through that stage already, or are in the same boat with you right now. School counselors may also be available in the late summer, and most schools have a schedule pick up day when you can walk through and see where your child will need to go. Even though we’re rushed and busy, simply acknowledging that change can be stressful is important and can actually help reduce that stress.

One “common” back-to-school tip that I do want to revisit is logistics, because having a grip on what’s coming helps increase your (and your kids’) emotional readiness for back-to-school time. Depending on how many children you have and where they need to be when, there may be interesting challenges getting everyone out the door and to their respective halls of learning in any semblance of “on-time”. For example, we used to have one kid in a private school 30 minutes from home and another one in a public school 10 minutes from home. Most days we could “divide and conquer”, but sometimes if I had an early meeting, I couldn’t drive either one (we don’t have busses). So we’d have to call on the kindness of a neighbor across the street whose kids went to the same public school. Thank goodness for friendly neighbors!

Another logistics issue: getting the school calendar(s) out as soon as possible and transferring all the dates onto the family calendar and any other calendars you use (personal planner, phone) is a MUST! I’m fortunate now that both my kids are in the same school system, but for years the days off rarely coincided, leading to creative child-care solutions. Oh, he has a half-day today? Oops.

Your attitude and behavior surrounding back-to-school issues will spread to the rest of your family. If you are able to be (relatively) calm and get as organized as you can, the inevitable bumps will be smoother. Take time to be in touch with your emotions about the process, buckle up, and enjoy the ride!

–Lori J. Warner, Ph.D., LP, BCBA-D, HOPE Center, Beaumont Children’s Hospital

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