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Diane McGregor, Kitchener, ON
Is this a time of year that you welcome with joy and excitement? Or, is it a time of year you kind of dread, worrying what this school year will be like for you and your child?
Back to school is so often associated with new beginnings, fresh starts and excited anticipation. Just look at all the advertising and “back to school deals” that abound at this time of year. They all have pictures of happy children and teens looking like they just can’t wait to get back to school in their shiny new outfits and shoes.
Kindergarten is the first step into the brand new world of school. Then Grade 1 with all of its new expectations and routines. Entry into Middle School (or the junior years) then High School. Each year is a representation of growth and change. Changes that deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated. But each year also represents new challenges and new stressors.
Especially after such a prolonged, and often quite relaxed summer holiday. Kids might worry about so many things…making friends, liking their teachers, being able to handle the schoolwork, having the right clothes or supplies, making the team…the list can go on and on. Parents worry too. Will my child be ok this year? Will there be support if my child is struggling? Will we be able to get help if we need it? How will I be able to best support my child this year? (Not to mention all the lunch prep!) 😉
Back to school is a major transition for parents, just as it is for kids.
So, the big question is …
Planning is important and we all need a bit of time to adjust from the more casual routines of summer to a more structured daily schedule. However, try to avoid a sudden announcement of changes. For instance, instead of announcing, “School starts in 10 days. Tonight, everyone is going to bed ½ hour earlier and getting up ½ earlier in the morning!” try asking for input about how to get ready for school. “So…school starts in 10 days, what do we need to do to get ready?” Do some brainstorming, get some ideas and make some plans together. With younger children, we might need to structure the planning process more directly, but with older children and teens, we can let them have more say over the transition process. Be aware that even bringing up this topic may create anxiety in some children so take your time and be prepared to stop for awhile. Start again another time.
Maybe have one last night of staying up late to say “goodnight to summer” or create a special meal together to celebrate the upcoming school year. Family rituals help create feelings of togetherness and belonging. They are a way of saying, “we are in this together”. Click here for a great article on family rituals.
Often, we just want to know that our kids are happy about things and so we try to focus on “all the good parts” of going back to school. It is certainly important to help kids keep the positive pieces of school in mind but it is also important to give them space to talk about what they might be worrying or unhappy about. When you cheerfully announce “School starts next week!” and one (or more of your kids) groans or expresses something negative, take some time to find out what this is about. You can gently comment, “you don’t sound very excited….what’s on your mind? (what are you thinking about? Worrying about? Etc).” Or, during some quiet moments, ask some open ended questions like “what’s something you are excited about for this year?” and follow it with, “what’s something you are worried about for this year?” You might be surprised what you learn! One other thing: we don’t need to jump in to solve the problem about what they tell us. Just listen. Show empathy and understanding and then add, “well, buddy, I’m here if you need me.” Sometimes, that’s all our kids need from us in that moment.
Don’t worry if you and your kids are not perfectly “school ready” the day after Labour Day. Adjustment takes time and everyone—everyone!—does it at their own pace. There is still plenty of time to get that sleep cycle back to normal, or get the school supplies that are needed. Do what is right for you and your children. You will get there!
Share your experiences, your successes as well as your struggles. How do others experience back to school? Do they have strategies that actually work or are they often making things up as they go? Just sharing an experience or two with another parent can be so helpful. Melodie, quoted here, is part of our Experienced Parent team at Parenting Now. You can read her full story about their first day of school here. We ALL struggle at some point in our parenting and no one has this stuff down pat.
Editor’s Note: Diane was interviewed about Back to School tips on the CBC-KW Morning Show. You can listen to the interview here.