“Will my teacher be nice? Where will I sit? Will the other kids like me?”
Many kids get nervous about heading back to school. “A big part of a successful
first week is establishing a routine and explaining where the bathroom is, what
happens when you go to gym class and when to expect recess,” explains Cathy
Dunne, a seventh grade teacher in the Toronto area. With a little preparation,
parents can help. Here’s how to make your child’s transition a smooth one.
Remember Routines. Family routines tend to slide in the
summer—after all, what’s summer without crazy bedtimes, a popsicle habit, and
wearing swimsuits for days on end?—and it can be hard to readjust come fall,
notes Patricia Tanner Nelson, Family and Human Development Specialist at the
University of Delaware. “Well before school starts, focus on choosing sleep,
exercise, healthy foods, and time together,” she says. Rosanna Scott, a mom of
two from Ohio, agrees. “Practice school bedtimes a week before school starts so
that the new routine is established,” she says.
Get Ready! Don’t underestimate the fun and importance of new
stuff for the big day. With younger kids, a bag full of school supplies, a new
backpack and a few new items of clothing tend to gear them up without any
further encouragement, says Amanda Formaro, mother of four in Nevada. For an
older child, this may be the time to give the thumbs-up to that must-have trend
item, especially if he’s earned some money over the summer to pay for it.
Another way to get everyone prepared is to plan a fun family outing on Labor
Day weekend, suggests Scott, who home schools her two boys. “We often plan an
event to celebrate the end of summer and welcome the new school season.”
Show Them the Way. If she’s new to the school, show your
child her classroom, what entrance and exit to use and where the bathroom is
located. If she’s taking the bus, visit the bus stop location and explain how to
get on and off, especially if it’s the first time. Show her the drop off and
pick up spot at school, too—if you’re not sure where it will be, call the school
ahead of time to find out.
Some schools will allow you to take a tour during the summer and arrange to
meet the teacher. Third grade Alberta teacher Fay Chomik suggests encouraging a
sense of ownership on the tour: “This is your school, your gymnasium, your lunch
Prepare the Teacher. Let your child’s teacher know about any
specifics about behaviour or health, such as a bladder infection. “You don’t
want a child to have a bad experience because he’s asking to go to the bathroom
every half hour and the teacher says, ‘No,’ thinking he doesn’t need to go so
frequently but really he does,” explains Chomik.
Talk, Talk, Talk. “I try to think of all the positive things
that they like about school and I talk about them as much as possible,” says
Formaro. “I ask about friends they haven’t seen over the summer. I also look at
my kids and note anything different that their friends will notice, such as a
new hairstyle or if they’ve grown over the summer. I never mention homework or
teachers they weren’t crazy about.”
Tanner Nelson notes that learning doesn’t stop when school does, so you need
to convey, in a low-key way, how important learning is to you. “Be a role model
throughout the year, not just during school time. For example, show how much you
like reading, or talk about math and measuring when you’re making a recipe
Chomik also suggests reading your kids school stories to get them ready for
what to expect. Find reviewed book suggestions in Back to school books. And for
the younger kids, it’s a good idea to explain the role of the teacher to your
child. “Encourage the child to speak up and let the teacher know if they’re
having problems. This is especially important if a child is getting bullied,
which can happen even on the first day. They need to know they can, and should,
talk to the teacher.”
Be Organized. Ease back-to-school anxiety by being prepared.
Help your child to lay out her clothes and pack her backpack the night before.
Be sure to include a healthy lunch and a snack that your child can open and eat
on his own.
Take It Easy. Preparation is great—but don’t go overboard.
“You can make back-to-school too big a deal!” laughs Tanner Nelson. If September
was a hard month for you as a kid, it might not necessarily be the same for your
child, and vice versa. You’re the best judge of when your child needs
reassurance, and how to go about giving it. “In the end, remember that it’s
normal to feel a little nervous or fluttery about that first week back.
Everyone, including the teachers, feels like that,” she says.