Updated: Mar 20, 2021
If you are nervous about sending your child back to school you are not alone. It has been over a year for some of us. This transition is going to be a challenge and we will need help in order to show up prepared. These seven steps will help you be the confident, attuned leader your children need. Don't forget to check out the Back to School Essentials so you are ready when the time comes.
1) All feelings are allowed and welcome.
Try to support and welcome all emotions that come up in you and your child regardless of how intense or irrational they are. There may be excitement and relief, or there could be intense grief. The way you feel about it is normal and deserves acknowledgment. The way your child feels about it is normal and deserves acknowledgment. Remember feelings are just feelings. They are not behaviors, they are not decisions, they are not reality. Feelings can be anything they want to be.
The best way to welcome feelings is to acknowledge them. Acknowledgment implies an unbiased response. A great response to you or your child’s feelings is “Hmm, you feel ___________.” Acknowledgment does not imply a solution or a change. An example of an unnecessary response would be, “Don’t be sad, you’re going to love it! You have a great teacher, and all your friends will be there!”
Convincing someone not to have a certain feeling is like convincing a tree not to grow so many leaves. Telling someone to have a different feeling is like trying to convince a tree to grow more 10-inch leaves instead of 6-inch leaves. Why would you? All leaves are natural and normal for the tree, plus the amount or type of leaves do not really matter for its long-term health. More important is the sun and water intake and how strong and stable the roots are.
“Now that you told me not to be sad, I don’t feel sad anymore. Now, I’m really excited, thank you!” -Said no one ever
Common examples of back to school feelings:
Feeling: “I’m scared, I don’t want to go.”
Do say: “You’re feeling scared, that makes sense. Can you tell me what you are scared about?”
Don't say: “There is no reason to be scared. Your teacher will keep you safe.”
Feeling: "I hate school"
Do say: “You hate school. What makes you hate it?”
Don't say: “Don’t say that, you haven’t even given it a chance yet. You’re going to love it.”
Feeling: “I don’t have any friends.”
Do say: “You don’t have any friends. Can you tell me what that means?”
Don't say: “Yes, you do! You play with Sam all the time!”
Feeling: “I’m not going”
Do say: “You’re not going? What makes you say that?”
Don't say: “Yes, you are. You do not have a choice.”
2) Dream up your most ideal first day, then consider the pitfalls.
When looking forward to things, most of us tend to dream up fantasy expectations then experience disappointment, stress, and resentment when the moment arrives. This is because our fantasies do not account for the pitfalls. You can be guaranteed pitfalls so just think about them a bit before the big day.
We will enjoy a hearty breakfast together and get out the door smoothly because of all my prep work.
My child and I will go our separate ways ready to tackle this momentous day.
At work, I will be productive and energized because I am not my child’s sole provider anymore!
At school, my kid is going to love their cool teacher and amazing friends.
They will be so excited to have some social interaction and they will have a wonderful time.
We will meet again at dinner and talk about the excitement of both our days.
Your child has a screaming fit over the food spilled on their shirt and refuses to wear anything else or do anything else to get ready.
Your child has to POOP right after you buckle them into the car.
There are crazy traffic and a huge line at the carpool drop-off.
You cannot find the right classroom or anyone to help.
It takes 30 min before your kid gets temperature checked and hands washed so you can go.
You are late for work and cannot think about anything except the utter chaos and look of terror on your child’s face as you left.
Around 11:30 you get a call saying your kid forgot their lunch and refuses to eat the school food.
You get no work done.
After school, your child is furious and expresses hate over the school, teacher, and classmates.
Chances are your day will unfold somewhere between fantasy and pitfalls. It is good to think about both ideas then go forward with optimism and openness. Let it all come, we can handle it!
3)Do your prep work.
The week before
Catch up on laundry
Meal prep and planning
Each night before bed
Make lunches and snacks, for you and the kids. You must not underestimate your need to eat the first week back to school.
Prep breakfast so it is already ready to be cooked or ready to eat.
Everyone showers the night or day before.
Everyone wears their clothes to bed, seriously just sleep in what you will wear the next day.
Have shoes and socks by the door.
Backpacks packed and ready to go.
Doing these things will make the morning as calm as possible. These will not guarantee calm. However, they do guarantee that you can move forward with confidence knowing you have done all you can to create calm. Also, if you have older kids in upper elementary or high school they can absolutely work with you on all these tasks. By the time high school rolls around a child is more than capable of doing their own laundry, packing their own lunch, and getting their backpack packed.
4) Breathe and stay calm and connected for at least three minutes before the “goodbye” and after the “welcome back”.
Muster up all the strength and inner peace you can manage to give your child 3 minutes before they leave and 3 minutes after they return home from school. Those few moments of hello and goodbye are pivotal moments of connection. This will send a message to your child, “I support you. When you leave, I miss you. When you come back, I’m happy to see you.” Do everything you can to let go and be calm, confident, and connected to your child. It does not matter what happened in the past or what will happen in the future during these moments, let it go. Just be there with them as calm, supportive, and present as you can.
5) Remember, restraint collapse is real.
Restraint collapse is when we use all our energy to stay calm and perform at work or school, then at the end of the day we “collapse” into exhaustion because of how composed we had to be throughout the day. Adults experience it by “vegging out”, eating snacks, and binge-watching Netflix all night. Children experience restraint collapse by withdrawing, having tantrums, or general moodiness. Their intense emotions and tantrums after school are them collapsing under the weight of holding it together all day. Anticipate this and let it happen for as long and hard as it needs to. Think about it like a pressure release valve. If your child releases some pressure at home with your support, it’s much better than exploding at school. (Although that is not the end of the world either.) Also, never underestimate the power of quiet and stillness. If your child needs to come home and be quiet and still resist the temptation to make them talk about their day. They are processing and need some space.
6) Read books, play, draw pictures, & talk about what will happen.
You can role-play using stuffed animals. Take turns being the students, teacher, and friends at school. Draw pictures about what the first morning will look like. Even if your child has seen the school already look at pictures of the school. Talk about what your child will do in the classroom, lunchroom, gym, and playground. Draw pictures of your child doing things they need to do on their own: hang a backpack, sit at a desk, standing in line, going to the bathroom.
Great books to read.
7) Trust your child and yourself, then use mantras.
There will be hard moments, there will be a struggle. Trust that your child is resilient and can handle it. Trust that you are resilient and can handle it.
We can do hard things.
Challenges will arise, I am skilled enough to navigate them.
My child is whole and complete.
I am whole and complete.
Good enough is good enough.