Back to School Stress-Free
by Robin Fast
“How did I get here again?” I ask myself. I’m standing in Wal-Mart, staring at a wall of school supplies. Every few seconds I look down at the list provided by the school, look up again, scan the bank of shelves in front of me, then turn slowly, purusing the other side of the aisle. I check the list again.
One bottle of Elmer’s white glue. What would happen if I buy a bottle of LePage’s? It’s right there in front of me. I could take it, put it in my cart and move on to the next item. What could happen? Would my child’s art projects fall apart? Would all the other kids laugh and point when he pulls the glue out of his desk? Would he have to explain to his teacher that his dad couldn’t read, or couldn’t be bothered to find the right item? Would he have to see the look on his teacher’s face that says, “You poor dear, to have a father like that.”
I’m sure I did this job last year—it must be my wife’s turn. School starts tomorrow and I’m fumbling to pull it together. Once I finished high school my plan was to avoid this end-of-summer stress for the rest of my life. And yet here I am, just trying to survive the next few days and wondering why the kids around me are stressed out.
Getting the supplies is just the tip of the emotional iceberg that can be the return to school.
I make a few quick calls to teachers I am lucky enough to know and, along with asking how important this daunting list really is, I probe them for answers to other less immediate questions: How can I make this time of year different? What’s important for me to focus on? How can I be sure to get my child into his seat on the first day of class relaxed, happy, and prepared for another year?
Here are some of their suggestions:
First, make back-to-school positive. Children need to hear all the good things that will be happening for them. They will fill in the blanks so the more information we can give them the less anxiety they will have about the unknown. Talk to them about their teacher and find out about the curriculum and let your children know about the activities they can expect—possible field trips or interesting projects.
Get them involved. Have them participate in choosing school supplies. Get them excited about a new binder or a new thermos. My son loves labelling all the supplies once we get them home. Other children may want to pack their own lunch or pick out something to wear ahead of time so the first day feels special.
Some children may benefit from visiting the school the week before. Follow the route your child will take to the school with a snack and hang out on the playground for a while to make the school familiar again.
Begin establishing a school-type routine the week before school starts. Summer camps can really help but even without one, be sure to go to bed earlier, get up when you’d get up on a school day, have breakfast and head out the door for some sort of activity.
Set up a space for them to work—a desk in their room perhaps, cleared off and ready for homework. You can even work with them on projects at the time of day when they’d be doing homework, journaling their summer, making a scrapbook. Promoting the idea that school isn’t somewhere separate that they go to on their own but something you are doing together can really connect your child to that environment and reduce their anxiety. The more closely connected the two environments are—school and home—the better they will do and the more ready they will be for that first day.
For all children and especially for children with higher anxiety about school (children that have watched their parents stress about the correct glue to buy), these type of activities not only ready them for the experience but create natural opportunities to talk about school and build a picture of what the new year will be like.
Not surprisingly, the time spent readying the child can also ready the parent and ensure that we aren’t putting our stress on the experience as well. I know I don’t worry too much about the stress I’m experiencing until I notice it is impacting my child.
So next year, if for some reason it’s my turn to buy school supplies again, I may need to start a bit sooner and treat it as an outing to positively prepare my child for school rather than a task that reminds me that summer is over for me too.
But what about the list? Thankfully, according to the teachers I talked to, the type of glue might be important but the brand usually isn’t. Whew! I’m reaching for the bottle in front of me and heading for the cashier.
Robin Fast is an instructor with Camosun College’s Community, Family and Child Studies diploma program. He is also a learning and growing parent.