By Susan Bartell, Psy.D.

Less Stress for Back-to-School Success

  |  Education Advice & Tips  

   Whether we like it or not, the lazy days of summer eventually give way to back-to-school frenzy. This can be a stressful transition - for kids and parents. For many children, the initial anxiety is about the unknown - who will be her teacher and which friends will (or won't) be in her class. (You may be concerned about this, too.)

   Another source of stress is that it can be difficult - for both kids and adults - to get back into the habit of homework, responsibilities, and structure. And many kids worry that they aren't prepared for the next grade - that they're not smart enough, won't be able to handle the work, or won't understand the teacher.

   Some children begin displaying anticipatory anxiety about summer ending weeks in advance. One child might begin to have trouble falling asleep at night; another might ask worried questions about school or obsess about who his teacher will be. Some children may not appear outwardly anxious, but will want to organize and plan - perhaps more than they should. One will think about the clothes she wants to wear for the first week of school; another may focus on the school supplies he will need, or how she will pack her book bag. All of these are ways to try and control their world when they feel there are too many unknowns up ahead.

   If your child seems anxious, or even just a little concerned, these eight steps will make the transition to the new school year smoother:

• Keep your concerns about next year's teacher to yourself and be positive with your child about whichever teacher he gets, and about making new friends.

  • Begin easing into an earlier "school year" bedtime before the first day of school.

  • Don't wait until the last minute to purchase school supplies. This will unnecessarily increase your child's anxiety.

• Near the end of summer, begin reminding your child about school routines. Mention things like, "Music lessons begin soon," "You'll see your school friends in a couple of weeks," and "Remember, no TV before homework."

  • Trying on school clothes to see what fits is a great way to ease into the school year.

• Give your child some perspective. Remind her that the beginning of every year makes everyone a bit nervous, but she was fine last year and she will be this year, too.

• Remind your child that he moved up to the next grade because last year's teacher knew he was ready. He won't have a problem learning and keeping up. But if he does he should tell you, and you will make sure he gets help.

• If possible, help your child to temporarily avoid hanging out with other children who are negative, excessively worried, angry, or otherwise unenthusiastic about beginning school. You shouldn't spend time with similar parents either. This type of pessimistic conversation won't help your child - or you - to transition into the new school year positively and smoothly.

DR. SUSAN BARTELL is a nationally recognized child, teen, and parenting psychologist and award-winning author. Her latest book is
Dr. Susan's Fit and Fun Family Action Plan: 301 Things You Can Do Today. Learn more at

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