Tag Archives: back to school

The Half Dozen, or How to Return to School

1. Be proactive about mental health
No news is good news is absolutely incorrect in this case. How can you recognize when your child is having a tough time? Look for signs and symptoms that something is wrong: these include isolation, irritability, low mood, poor frustration tolerance, difficulty sleeping, lack of motivation, lack of enjoyment of normal activities, crying, or concerns about safety. I’d recommend having a very low threshold for getting professional help.

2. Consider the effects of layers of change
In general, in any circumstances, going back to school is a big change. But it’s a whole new setting especially for kids who are going from elementary school to middle school or middle school to high school. All of a sudden, they’re expected to know what they’re doing. It’s a huge shift from being in their space at home to now being in this world of back to school. Or a new school. If your child is having a hard time with the transition, think about how they normally act when they’re stressed and look for those behaviors. For example, if your child gets headaches or stomach aches when they’re anxious, you’ll know that school is stressing them out should they start having them more frequently. Of course, big markers are mood changes, anxiety on Sunday nights before the school week starts, and outright school refusal.

3. Establish routines before and after school
Kids need stability during times of change. Be present, predictable and consistent. Family might be the only part of their lives that feels that way right now. Be there for them and follow their lead as much as you can. Maintaining appropriate times for bed, dinner, prepping for the week, recreational time, and chores is more important than ever. Doing as much as possible beforehand is also comforting to kids. Pack your lunch or snacks, put out clothes you want to wear, prep your backpack, go over the schedule for the next day, all the night before.

4. Be peaceful energy
If your child’s reactions seem different, perhaps snippier than usual or even overreacting to seemingly small stressors, the best thing you can do is meet the reactions with compassion, warmth, and calm, instead of reacting yourself. An overreaction can take the form of minimizing in order to be presumably reassuring, being overly solicitous of fears or worries, or just being impatient. Now is NOT the time, as I always tell families, to get into conflicts, or try to confront bigger issues in the household. Times of transition require calmness. As school starts, building up the daily routine and foundation of daily household functioning creates scaffolding.

5. Make things fun
I have kids pick masks that they enjoy, personalize their backpack or notebook with buttons and stickers, select snacks that they love to take to school, make a playlist of favorite YouTube snippets or music that cheers them up and give it a special name (mine is Monday, Monday), and bring something personal with them to school, a small stress toy, journal, or stuffed animal. In my office, I have an assortment of squeezy toys, animals and dinosaurs, and action figures. Sometimes clients like to pick and take a toy with them. It connects them to a sense of safety, known as a transitional object.

6. Reassure them that they are not alone
Many kids have not seen their friends or teachers in over a year. Kids have questions. They want to know how they are going to get from class to class on time. Are they going to miss their bus? How will they get around the school building without getting lost? What will they do if they start having anxiety during class? Where will they sit at lunch? What if they don’t know anybody in their class? Being able to discuss all of these questions without minimizing worries or concerns is needed. Making school advisors, counselors, and administrators aware of any medical or mental health concerns beforehand is also recommended.

Back to School Strategies

As summer wanes, many students (and parents) feel the excitement, the anticipation, and yes, the nervousness: The First Day of School.  It can be fraught. Small changes  can make a difference.


  • Practice the first day of school routine: Getting into a sleep routine BEFORE the first week of school will aide in easing the shock of waking up early. Catching the bus, carpooling, or driving with parents require planning. Organizing things at home — backpack, binder, lunchbox or cafeteria money — will help make the first morning go smoothly. I recommend checking the weather and putting out clothes for the next day the night before.
  • Also, walking through the building and visiting your child’s locker and classroom if they are transitioning or going to a new school will help ease anxiety of the unknown. Many schools have orientations and practice days. Use them.
  • Knowledge is important. Some of the most common fears that I hear:
    • Not being able to find their classroom
    • Not being able to find the restroom
    • Not being able to open their locker
    • Not having the right textbooks or school supplies.
    • Not knowing where their bus is.
    • Being late between classes.
    • Most middle and high schools now have alternating schedules, such as A and B days, which can potentially create confusion and anxiety for many students.
  • Talk to your child: Asking your children about their fears or worries about going back to school will help them share concerns.
  • Inquire as to what they liked about their previous school or grade and see how those positives can be incorporated into their new experience.
  • Empathize with your children: Change can be difficult, but also exciting. Let your children know that you are aware of what they’re going through and that you will be there to help them in the process. Nerves are normal, but highlight that not everything that is different is necessarily bad.


  • Figure out study space. A well-stocked desk in a quiet place at home can be key, but sometimes you need variety. Coffee shops, libraries, parks, study hall, or even just moving to the kitchen table will give you a change of scenery which can prompt your brain to retain information better.
  • Track more than homework in a school planner. I believe in a master planner with at least four categories, and four ink colors to mark them:
    1. School deadlines including exams, projects, quizzes, SAT and college stuff dates, and in large assignments.
    2. Social events, including time with friends and family.
    3. Athletics and extracurriculars, including practice, games, rehearsals, meetings, team building, and volunteering.
    4. Lastly, self-care. You have to write down doctors appointments, haircuts, therapy, exercise, school holidays, and even scheduled downtime like specific movies, events, or concerts.
  • Establish a Morning Routine. Figure out how much time you need everyday to get dressed, do your makeup, eat breakfast, etc. That way, you will know exactly when to wake up, and if you could have a snooze or two before that. Without being late.
  • Organize Your Backpack the night before. An organized backpack will make it so much easier to grab what you’re looking for when you get to class. Sometimes, students can work hard on assignments, and forgot to pack your backpack with what they need for the day
  • De-Clutter Your Room. When all the stuff you no longer use is removed, and when you’re not worried about finding what you need, your brain will feel clearer too.
  • Write Things Down. Your brain is full with your busy life. Take two minutes each morning to get all your thoughts on paper. Put down everything you want to do for the day. Once it’s all out of your head, it’s easier to tell what your biggest goals are for the day and prioritize from there. It’s a great way to de-stress and make the day look less intimidating.
  • Eat breakfast or bring snacks to school. If you plan this before hand, it makes it much easier not to hit the wall with the Hangries. Your brain needs fuel. School is an intense job.
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