Back-to-school jitters? Planning, positive attitude can reduce stress and anxiety of first days

Marci Gore • Jul 31, 2013 at 7:34 AM

As students head back to the classroom during the next few weeks, both parents and children may experience a bit of stress and anxiety.

However, Dr. Dwain Arnold, Kingsport City School’s director of elementary education, says with some planning and a positive attitude, those first days of school can actually be exciting.

“Focus on the great things about starting school, such as seeing our friends again, seeing our teachers again and forming bonds with our new teachers,” Arnold said. “Stay focused on all the positive fun, things that come along with school starting. Help make it something that’s anticipated in a positive and exciting way.”

Arnold also recommends taking advantage of any open houses or back-to-school nights.

“Participate in these together as a family. Go and see friends again. See the school. Meet the teachers. This is a great time to come together as a community and maybe alleviate some of those first-day jitters,” he said. “Some schools provide schedules on these nights, which can be really helpful as a student is making the transition to a middle or high school.”

Arnold also suggests to involve your child in any back-to-school shopping.

“Allow them to have some decisions about the color of their notebooks or what kind of backpack they want. This can foster excitement, too. Do it together and make it a fun event,” he said.

One of the most difficult parts about heading back to school in August is the bedtime routine.

“You get into the summer routine and you might be sleeping a little later, staying up a little later. The TV schedule may be a little different. So, start to establish a bedtime routine before the first day of school so it isn’t so hard that very first day. And talk about those routines and get the child comfortable with changing back into a more scheduled routine than they’re accustomed to,” Arnold said.

He also recommends to establish a good breakfast routine and make sure your child understands how crucial this first meal of the day is for learning.

And don’t forget to make a plan for lunch.

“In my own house, we keep the lunch menu on the refrigerator and we look a month ahead and check off the days my daughter wants to take her lunch. We make those decisions ahead of time,” Arnold said. “Don’t forget to decide about your payment options. Some school systems have the opportunity to go online and establish an account so you can go ahead, as a parent, and make your plans for whatever your lunch payment option’s going to be.”

Arnold also suggests — especially for the younger students — that parents put a personal note in their child’s lunchbox.

“I do this for my daughter every day. I just write a little note on her napkin. It makes them feel special when they open it up and see a note that says something like, ‘I hope your first day is awesome!’” he said.

And as any parent knows, there will be lots of paperwork to fill out that first week of school.

“If you go to an open house or back-to-school night, you may receive some paperwork to fill out there. But, if not, watch for it to come home that first week of school. Be aware there may be some forms that need to be filled out by a parent. It could be a clinic card. It could be anything, really, that comes from the school. Just watch for all this to come home with your child and try to complete it in a timely way so that all those forms don’t get lost in the shuffle,” Arnold said.

Because back-to-school anxiety is perfectly normal for many students, Arnold says it’s important for parents to maintain good communication with their children.

“Let them know they can talk to you about anything that may be bothering them or that they may be feeling anxious about. Parents can try to alleviate any of those stresses that the children have, but they can’t do it if the children aren’t talking to them,” he said.

The National Association of School Psychologists also offers the following back-to-school tips:

• Buy school supplies early.

• Designate and clear a place to do homework.

• Select a spot to keep backpacks and lunch boxes.

• Make lunches the night before.

• Leave for school in plenty of time in the mornings.

• Arrange play dates to help re-establish positive social relationships with peers.

• Send a brief note to your child’s teacher to let him or her know you are interested in getting feedback on how and what your child is doing in school.

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