A dad's "Back to school guide"

Can it be? Is the school year really here again already? As I discuss this with other parents, some (okay, MOST) are beyond excited to have 6.5 hours of their child’s day scheduled (and oh, that glorious free time!), while some are lamenting the end of summer. We are incredibly lucky to have a second grader who is incredibly eager to start school tomorrow: she can’t wait to have her own desk, begin new lessons, and have classes with new and different friends. But I know there are a lot of kids who are full of anxiety about the thought of walking into an unfamiliar environment, having to meet new kids and teachers, and new lessons that will challenge them. The social and academic stress of a new school year weighs heavily on these kids, so as we wrap up the summer and our look at stress, back to school anxiety is a natural subject. While I am not an expert, I have read up on what they have to say and I would like to share the things on which I am focusing to start this academic year.

My first step is to mind the basics: get plenty of quality sleep, eat nutritious foods, keep water on hand at all times, and set a routine before school starts. Any stress in life is amplified when dealing with it along with lack of sleep, dehydration, lack of nourishment, etc. The mind and body are tremendously integrated, so it is essential that the body be right for the brain to have a chance.

My next goal is to unplug and be an active listener. In our high tech world with any number of devices and media begging for our attention, it can be easy to lose focus on our children. But this is the most important thing I can offer: listen to their concerns and worries! Once I know what those are, then we can create a “game plan” together for how to overcome them. Because, in all honesty, many of these worries come more from the anticipation of what *might* happen. In this respect, adults are no different than children here: we can easily get bogged down in the hypotheticals of what could occur, rather than staying in the moment and dealing with things as they come. If we were to attempt to prepare for every possibility, we would all go nuts! But with my kids, it can allay their fears to discuss how to handle certain situations *if* they are to happen. It erases more unknowns for them, ultimately giving them less to fret about.

Finally, we are very fortunate to live in a school district that encourages good communication and interaction between parents and teachers. We have in-home visits for preschoolers and open houses for children, parents, and teachers to meet one another, explore the space the kids will inhabit, and just to generally get comfortable with what is to come. The teachers are excited to meet the students and to figure out how best to connect with them. Our children’s teachers have appreciated hearing what “works” for our kids; they understand that we have a lifetime of experience with them, and while the teachers and kids will have their own rapport as time goes on, they don’t mind us giving a little insight into our kid. We’re all working toward the same goal!

I recognize that every child is different, and their worries will vary as much as they do. But my take is that if I can be open, accessible, problem-solving, and loving, I can help make this back to school process as painless as can be. 

I wish you all a successful start to the school year! Congratulations parents, you made it through the summer! And teachers, thank you for all that you do- please know how much you are appreciated!