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Back to School: 5 Tips to Mentally & Emotionally Prepare

Britney Phifer — August 6, 2018 — 5 min read
Believe it or not, the summer is winding down and before you know it, you and your family will be transitioning to the start of a new school year. Heading back to school not only means new backpacks, new teachers, and new routines, but for some students it can mean fear, anxiety and uncertainty. To help you and your student prepare for the new school year and get the best start possible, we’ve put together a list of tips to help you and your child mentally and emotionally prepare for what’s to come.


1. Establish school-day routines early, and put them into practice.
Routines are important for children and adolescents. They foster predictability, control and independence. With summer often being less demanding for students, it can offer a break from previously established routines; however, as a new school year brings increased responsibilities, re-establishing important routines becomes paramount. Setting a morning routine that fosters a peaceful start to the day is as important as an afternoon routine that incorporates homework, activities, preparing for the next day and appropriate bed times. Routines are essential for helping your child or teen be successful with the start of a new school year. Consider these tips when setting routines:

Involve your child in the development of a new routine. If your children are young, use a chart with pictures or stickers to map out the day. If chores or homework are incorporated, you can use rewards to reinforce positive behavior and achievement. For older children and teens, encourage their independence by helping them use a calendar or daily planner, set out their clothes, pack their own lunch or set their alarm for the morning. Being collaborative will not only build independence but can help children have more ownership in their daily schedule and ease their anxiety about returning to school.

Start your new routine before the first day of school. Give the routine a trial run the week before school. For your family, this may mean catching up on some assigned summer reading or backing up bed-times or wake-times in 10 minute increments until you reach your goal. Practice will help acclimate your child to the new routine and will ease the transition prior to the first day of school.

2. Get Involved
Parent involvement at school is not only key to a successful school year start, but it is important for your child’s success throughout the school year as well. Engage with your child’s teacher beyond open house. Get their email or phone number and let them know that you value open communication with them. Keep in mind that the start of the school year is busy for teachers, too, so if they don’t reach out first, make sure to connect with them beyond the first week. This will not only ease any concerns you may have as a parent, but will help your child see that you are invested in their experience at school.

Student involvement is also important. Kids can often feel alone if they are in a new grade, school or environment. Encourage your child to explore extracurricular activities such as sports, band or after school clubs. Children and teens that are involved in activities outside of school often find ways to positively invest their time and build strong adult and peer relationships, as well as their own sense of self-confidence.

Know your resources. Schools and communities offer a great deal of support with academic, social, and other needs your family may have. Talk with your school social worker about these resources if you experience any challenges.

3. Encourage open communication
For many children, a new school year can be scary and anxiety-provoking if they have experienced bullying, learning challenges, or poor peer relationships in the past. Having someone to talk to is critical for children and teens as they navigate a new school year. Don’t be afraid to talk openly with your children about their feelings. Normalize this communication for your child and let them know that sharing their feelings is okay. Talking to a school counselor or therapist can also be beneficial. Many schools offer daily counseling on site at school. 

As a parent, you may be in need of support as well. Helping your child through a difficult school year can be tough, and this can take a toll on you as you support them. Know that there are supports available for you too such as community parent support groups and counseling.

Daily family check-ins can be a great way to both establish a healthy routine as well as provide a format for you to check in with your child to see how they are doing. These quick conversations can be in the car, at dinner, or before bed. Family check-ins normalize conversations about family member well-being and establish a consistent time when children can discuss what is going on in their lives. 

4. Incorporate positive reinforcement
If your child is giving you a hard time about going back to school or starting a new routine, it can be tough to focus on the positive things they are doing. Keep in mind that most behavior change comes through reinforcing the positive things your child does. Find ways to praise your child throughout the day for speaking appropriately, making the right choices, or fulfilling their responsibilities. Consider a “reward chart” or other type of goal-directed activity for positive behavior that you can build on throughout the school year as responsibilities increase. Keep in mind that rewards do not have to be monetary, but can instead be an hour at the park with just the two of you.

5. Maintain an optimistic tone and positive attitude
Transitions are tough. Transitioning to a new school year and routine can be even more difficult if your child had a difficult year the year before. For you, summer may have been a much needed break from a school year of struggle. Although keeping an optimistic attitude can be a challenge, your child is tuned into you as their parent and will often follow your lead. As a parent, engage in self-care activities to help you to focus on the positive things a new school year brings and share those positive messages with your child as they start a new year.


About the author
Britney Phifer is a clinical analyst with Cardinal Innovations’ Care Coordination Quality Management team. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist and licensed clinical addiction specialist. Britney has experience working with children, adolescents, and families with behavioral health needs.
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