The start of a new school year can be a source of stress for both parents and kids. Here’s how to beat those back-to-school blues.
Whether the start of a new school year is right around the corner or already in full swing, the end of August is often the beginning of something else for some parents: an increased feeling of anxiety.
If you’re a mom who’s experiencing a little extra stress at the beginning of a new school year, you’re not alone. In fact, your feeling is more common than you may think — especially if your kids are younger.
A new survey from Kiddie Academy, an educational child care center, found that when all members of the family are polled, 63 percent say it’s Mom who has the hardest time with the first day of school.
That’s compared to only 27 percent who identified the child as being the one who struggles most.
This isn’t at all surprising according to Michele Levin, a family therapist and co-owner of Blueprint Mental Health.
“It’s normal for parents to have a tough time transitioning themselves when their kids begin kindergarten,” she told Healthline. “For a lot of families, this is the first time experiencing losing some control.”
While it’s normal for the first day of school to be hard for some parents, Levin says some may need more support than others adjusting to the change.
She also points out there are a number of ways parents can manage the stress that can come with the start of a new school year.
American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) spokesperson Dr. Sara Bode, who’s also a primary care pediatrician and medical director of Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Care Connection School-Based Health and Mobile Services, suggests that moms who may be stressed during the first days of school spend some time thinking about what the root cause of their anxiety is and what they can do to soothe it.
“Maybe that means reaching out and asking to meet the teacher or administrators ahead of time to discuss concerns so that you can feel as though you’re doing something proactive,” Bode said.
In this way, Bode explains that preparing for the beginning of school is like training for an event. And practice makes perfect.
This extends to forming new routines in the days leading up to the beginning of the school year, too.
Tasks like getting your kids to wake up earlier, pick out the clothes they want to wear for the day, or eating breakfast at certain times can all help ease the transition when the first day of school arrives.
“If you find a way to start those days with your child in the morning with positive actions, that’s also going to lessen your anxiety as you build a routine,” Bode said.
For many parents, a big part of their stress stems from worrying about the experience their children will have when they begin school and the anxiety they may feel in an unfamiliar place.
But Levin says it’s important for parents to remember they can’t control that experience for their kids. “You can only control how you respond to it,” she said.
Levin says she wants parents to remember it’s not up to them to take away any potential stressors from their children, or to prevent them from experiencing discomfort.
Instead, she says parents should be focused on helping their kids understand how they feel, talk it through, and learn how to cope with whatever’s going on.
“Anticipating that and knowing that while it’s really hard, it’s in their best interest to work through this will help parents to better cope as well,” Levin explained.
In fact, parents who stress about their child’s anxiety over starting school may be making the experience more difficult for everyone, as kids tend to feed off their parents’ stress.
“Parents have to set the tone,” Bode said. “If they’re showing a lot of nerves or anxiety or questioning around whether this is the right school choice or how their child is going to handle going there, their kids are going to pick up on that.”
But parents aren’t the only ones who can experience increased anxiety over the start of new school year. Kids often feel it, too, and parents can play an integral role in helping them cope.
“Anything you can do to minimize the mystery of it all ahead of time is going to help your kids. If you can preplan to have a visit to the school, talking about everything they should expect, and even practicing what the first day of school might look like, that can help,” Bode said.
She explains this is because kids thrive on routine and like expectations.
However, for kids who may experience more than just the normal nerves for the first day of school, Levin says many schools have amazing resources available to help.
“Reach out to the school for some support, and they can point you in the right direction, whether it’s tools to implement or referrals to a therapist for additional help,” she said.
When the first day does finally roll around, it’s not uncommon for younger kids to cling and struggle a little.
For parents who are already anxious about how their child may handle this transition, they may be tempted to prolong their goodbye. However, both experts Healthline spoke with encourage parents to stick to their planned routine and not linger.
“We tell parents that prolonging that moment of separation doesn’t typically calm a child down. It usually makes things worse,” Bode said.
“In a child that doesn’t have a diagnosed anxiety disorder or some other background that might make this harder, it’s usually best to make sure the child knows what’s coming and to then follow through with it,” she explained.
Rather than linger, Bode suggests parents assure their child that everything is going to be OK and that they’re going to have a great day. Then leave them with their teacher, who’s likely well versed in helping kids adjust.
“Most of the time, the teacher will say the child was fine within 10 minutes once the parents left. But for those parents who stay, the anxiety only gets dragged out,” she said.
Levin encourages parents to maintain their composure during that goodbye as well, even though doing so may not be easy.
“When a child is either crying or panicking or stating, ‘I’m not going, don’t make me go,’ it naturally triggers a parent’s emotions, and they can easily feel nervous, worried, or frustrated,” she said.
In those moments, Levin encourages parents to remember one of her favorite quotes: “Share your calm. Don’t join their chaos.”
“It’s perfectly OK to drop your child off, smile enthusiastically the whole time, and then go around the corner and cry a little. You just want to try to minimize that sort of reaction in front of your child,” Levin said.
Remind them of the plan, tell them you love them, and trust their teacher to handle the next part.
While that may not seem easy, it’s ultimately what’s best for your little one — and you.