“Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me want to buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.”
This is one of my favorite quotes from the movie, You’ve Got Mail. It sums up the freshness and anticipation of the back-to-school season. I remember this anticipation well as a little girl. The weather would be changing; crispness filled the air, my fresh pencils nestled in their pencil case, and my new clothes waited patiently in my closet until that special first day of school.
Yet, along with the freshly sharpened pencils and perfectly shaped crayons, stress lurked. Would I be bullied (a frequent occurrence)? What if I had to go to the bathroom at school? What if I forgot my lunch? What if I couldn’t figure out the homework? What if I failed? I’m sure that my stress was not unique. Many, if not most, children experience anxiety over both the known and unknown each new school year.
As parents, we have our own set of back to school anxieties, no doubt: What if my child is bullied? What if they’re the bully? What if they learn things not consistent with our beliefs? What if they fail? How on earth can I fit in all their school stuff along with my regular work and routines?
Back to school stress is not limited to kids; moms feel it too! With a little bit of thought and planning, however, we can not only minimize the stress of this season, but use it as an opportunity to grow closer to our kids. In fact, just today, I read a really heartwarming story from one of my friends, who was totally stressing out about returning to work while her little one was off to preschool for the first time. She described her wife, leading their child into the school building, smiling wide with her arms spread wide, pretending to be an airplane, while the little one followed suit. It made me smile and offered the perfect example of a couple who was working together to minimize stress and maximize success for both parent and child.
So, what can you do when the back-to-school blues try to gain ground in your life? Here are my top tips for turning back-to-school stress into back-to-school success:
- Ease up on extra activities or rigid schedules that can add stress to your lives. Make sure to ease up on both yourself and your kids for a few weeks as you adjust. While this may seem a bit counterintuitive, back to school season is a time when you need extra flexibility. Everyone is getting used to a new schedule, and experiencing stress that goes along with that. Kids will likely need extra sleep, and mom may need to either make easy meals or get take out (there’s no shame in that) as you adjust to the new routine.
- Communicate openly and frequently with your child. Listen, really listen, to their successes, their failures, and their fears. If something seems off, probe a little deeper to discover if there is an underlying reason that they’re feeling or acting off. They may just be tired, but there might be something amiss with their peers, their teacher, or they may have an unrealistic quest for perfection that is stressing them out. Best to nip it in the bud, now rather than let negative situations and feelings fester until later in the year.
- Trust your child’s perception of the situation. If I had a nickel for every time parents dismissed a concern that was truly valid because they deemed it unimportant, I’d be rich. If something is important to your child, it’s important. Period. Trust their instincts and validate their feelings.
- Don’t be afraid to inquire more or intervene at school if needed. Although bullying is not fun to talk about, it is a real and very serious concern. Often a child will not fess up to the extent of bullying until they are at their breaking point. I’ve personally known way too many young people who have been in this situation-with tragic results. I never want to have to attend another funeral of a young person who succumbed to hopelessness.
- Show extra affection to your children. Perhaps start a new bedtime routing complete with snuggles, bedtime stories, or goodnight prayers. Even if your child is “too cool for school” to kiss you goodbye in the morning, that doesn’t mean they’re too old for your affection. You just need to find the times when they’re more open to receive affection from you. Bedtime is an ideal time for this, as their defenses are down, and they’re generally feeling relaxed.
There’s something very memorable about back to school season each year. And while you may not equate it with a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils, you may have memories that are equally vivid even after decades. As parents, we can all take simple steps to make sure that our children’s memories and our own lean toward the happy and positive end of the spectrum.
Being a mom is one of the hardest, but one of the most rewarding, parts of life. You’ve got this, mom!