I was always excited.
Excited to show off my new clothes and uncap my fresh pens; excited to see my old friends and meet new boys. Sometimes I was even excited to learn new things.
But I was also nervous. Nervous that my clothes wouldn’t be trendy enough, that my friends may have moved on, that I wouldn’t be able to keep up in math class.
Does this resonate with anyone else?
Now that we’re parents, though, it’s different, right?
I’m not so sure. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that we’re still a messy bundle of excited and nervous when September rolls around.
Excited for our little ones (and big ones) to reunite with old friends and meet new friends. Excited for them to have their minds challenged and creativity expanded. Excited to watch them flourish and shine.
But we’re also nervous. Nervous that their friends won’t include them, that their teachers won’t see how special they are. Nervous that they won’t make the team or the grade they need. Nervous they will begin to doubt that they shine.
And in the midst of all this angst, there’s the practical crush of early mornings, new schedules, forgotten school supplies, and last minute shopping.
So, for every former student become parent of back to schoolers, here are five things you can do to maximize the excitement and leverage the nerves to have an absolutely (mostly) fantastic first week of school.
1. Get Ready the Night Before
Pretty much every back to school article will tell you not to leave getting ready until the morning of the first day of school because, well, do you want to deal with the apocalypse in your kitchen? The night before school starts, make sure everyone’s lunches are packed (including yours!). Encourage, coerce, or bribe your children to lay out their clothes and shoes before they go to bed. Get backpacks filled and set the coffee maker. You want the morning to be as stress-free as possible for you AND your kiddos. Seems daunting? You won't regret putting the effort in! Being prepared means everyone can focus on the positive and enjoy being excited.
2. Rock the Back to School Calendar!
Get control of the fraying edges with a complete, comprehensive family calendar. Hang it in a common space (like the kitchen) and get everyone’s schedules nailed down (preferably colour-coded). What should go on this one calendar to rule them all? In addition to EVERYTHING, highlight kids’ school hours, parents’ work hours, extracurriculars (soccer, theatre, volunteering), school closures and holidays, doctor appointments, and (most importantly) family time! Getting your kids involved in making the calendar may help them feel a sense of responsibility and control over their commitments, which can reduce nerves. And you can make it fun with stickers, drawings, and silly holidays (like September 19 - International Talk Like a Pirate Day). Having one, shared calendar will help the whole family feel excited to embrace this busy season with confidence that no one will be late (yeah right!) or forgotten.
3. Listen to your kids' emotions
This advice comes straight from a New York Times article and is brilliant. One of the best ways to help your kids work through their nerves is to take the time to ask how they’re feeling about going back to school. Then listen—really listen—to their response. Restrain knee-jerk reactions and the overwhelming impulse to fix their fears. Instead, give them space to express themselves. And take a risk—gently invite them to do their own problem-solving. Ask questions to prompt creative solutions. Guide them through the process of taking control of their fears and making plans to reduce the variables. Leverage those nerves to shape the practical, life skill of troubleshooting and planning ahead.
4. Value Your Kids’ Friendships
We all want friends. Whether we’re a nine-year-old headed off to Grade 4 or a 35-year-old walking into a new job, friendships are critical to our sense of self-worth and identity. While it may not seem intuitive, helping your kid strengthen friendships can actually improve their performance in school. Peer friendships also help kids feel happier (no surprise there!) and make them more resilient. So offer to host Friday night pizza and a movie for your preteen and their peeps. Don't complain about driving your teenager to a friend's house. Take the time to get to know and value your children's friends. When a child (or any human) knows they have a friend to count on, the nerves can be leveraged into positive energy and the excitement around new experiences grows exponentially.
5. Get a Global Perspective
It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of back to school. The flashing smiles, the stormy tears, the bright colours, the early alarms, the running feet, half hugs, and quick goodbyes. It’s natural to feel like our family’s needs are all-consuming. Holding your family together through yet another changing season becomes paramount. And the rest of the world fades out of focus.
But there are still places where children brave significant dangers to get to school. Still countries where millions of girls can’t attend class past elementary. Still communities where parents long to give their children an education but poverty denies them that desire. These are hard realities. You may not think it's appropriate to share them with children. But I think one of the best ways to nurture a balanced, happy life is to help our kids see the bigger picture. Help them appreciate their privilege and learn to respond compassionately to their peers who don’t get to enjoy the same back to school buzz. In short, to give them perspective.
And it doesn't have to be all gloom and doom! Talk about the challenges other kids their age have (but not in the “there are starving children in Africa so you better eat your Brussel sprouts, or else!” kind of way). Instead, scroll through beautiful photo essays and watch movies like The Queen of Katwe. Or, choose a more personal route and sponsor a child. Through writing letters and exchanging experiences, your child can develop a relationship with a child their age living a radically different life. Getting a global perspective can help them not sweat the small stuff and really relish the good stuff.