Thrive, Partner Features 08/ 21/ 2023

Managing the Stress of the Back-to-school Transition

Written by: Joanna Loewi – The Present Mama

parents helping their daughter to get ready for school

One of the biggest challenges of going back-to-school is that it’s a transition. For adults and kids alike, transitions can be difficult. They bring about new routines, unfamiliar classrooms, new schedules, faces, perhaps even a new job. Just think back to your first day at a new job or even your first day of college. There is a feeling of unease and uncertainty that we all experience when entering into a new phase.

Our tendency as parents is to think about our children first, which makes sense and is something many of us do instinctively. However, I’m sure many of you have heard the concept of “putting your oxygen mask on first.” I believe this metaphor applies when we think about preparing our children for back-to-school. We have to prepare ourselves first and get in the right frame of mind in order to handle the stress that transitions can generate.

1. Do a self-care check in – Ask yourself, “What are one or two things I can do to take care of myself?” Perhaps it’s signing up for an exercise class, scheduling dinner with a friend, or asking your partner to put the kids to bed so you can take a bath and/or read a book. Navigating back-to-school transitions requires a lot of mental and emotional energy. Prepare yourself by engaging in activities that will fill you up so that you’re not pouring from an empty cup during those more stressful moments.

2. Normalize that transitions are tough – Our brain will believe what we choose to tell it which is why affirmations and mantras are so powerful. Trying saying to yourself, “This will feel hard because transitions are hard” or “I know that it might take awhile for us to get into a new rhythm and that’s okay. This happens every year and we’ve always gotten through it.” Why is this helpful? It takes away from the added layer of self-judgment we tend to place on ourselves (“What’s wrong with you that you can’t get it together? Am I doing something wrong that this feels so hard?”) and gives us permission to honor and validate how we’re feeling. Instead of criticism, this creates an opportunity for us to lead with compassion and understanding for both ourselves and our kids. In turn, you will find yourself able to remain calmer and more present to successfully tackle the challenges that transitions can bring about.

3. Make the unfamiliar as familiar as possible – Back-to-school transitions generate anxiety because they present a lot of unknowns. There are new teachers, classmates, classrooms, perhaps an entirely new school or building. If you have young ones, this may mean asking for pictures of their teachers and printing them out to have around the house. If there’s a playground at the school, drive by and spend some time there. You may also consider coming up with a short, simple goodbye routine that you can role play in advance (great opportunity to engage stuffed animals or favorite dolls here). For the older ones, it might mean reading through the curriculum online, generating a list of questions, or asking older siblings and friends about what to expect.

4. Get prepared and plan ahead – Has your child been going to bed late during the summer? If so, think about gradually shifting their bedtime earlier and being stricter about routines. Will there be less screen time once school starts? If so, we want to have conversations about thatand prepare our children for what changes they can expect. Do your older kids have any reading or assignments they need to get done? Check in with them on those. I’m also a big fan of doing as much as you can the night before to prepare for the morning. This could mean having kids pick out their clothes, deciding what they’ll have for breakfast, putting their socks in their shoes by the door, and getting their backpacks ready.

Now, you can try out all of these suggestions and it doesn’t mean the transition will automatically be smooth sailing. Adjust your expectations. Expect that there will be stressful moments because, again, transitions feel hard because they are hard. For everyone. AND yet applying even one of these small, simple tools can make it just a little bit easier.

Self-care Isn’t Selfish: An Expert Panel for Working Parents and Caregivers

Don’t miss our upcoming panel featuring Joanna Loewi and other HK partners: Self-care Isn’t Selfish: An Expert Panel for Working Parents and Caregivers. Save your spot here!

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