Even though I do my best to ignore the fully stocked back-to-school section when I shop at Target these days, there is no denying it: summer is coming to a close. Later this month my kids will pack up their backpacks and—with both excitement and dread—they’ll head back to school for another year of learning, socializing, creating, and exploring.
When I was young and summer came to an end, my parents basically had to make sure my sister and I had some crayons, pencils, glue, and a few notebooks. For parents today, purchasing every item on the double-sided school supply list is only the beginning of the back to school flurry. The pressure on parents to be involved in their kids’ school lives can be overwhelming. As a mother of four, it certainly is for me at times. But if moms are intentional about the way they approach a new school year, they can significantly reduce their own stress so they are better able to help their children start the school year on a positive note. As Andrew J. Bernstein says, “Remember that stress does not come from what’s going on in your life. It comes from your thoughts about what is going on in your life.”
1. Be Positive
This one is sometimes hard for me because I absolutely love summertime and have experienced a few rough back to school transitions with my four children over the years (for me and for them). But it is very important that as the kids begin to complain about going back to school, and may even have some anxiety about it, moms emphasize the positive aspects of going back to school. You can talk about your happy memories of going back to school and meeting the new person in your class who became your life long best friend, or taking a science class that inspired you to become a doctor, or how your 6th English teacher became a mentor to you all the way through senior year. You can address their concerns and normalize them by letting them know that you still remember how nervous you were to start a new year. Remind yourself and your children to find gratitude in this transition and for the gift of education.
2. Remember It’s Their Homework, Not Yours
I know, I know, I have to remind myself of this quite often. As a mother of four children who are all different types of learners, and in interviewing many moms and professionals about the “homework wars,” I have learned that there are many different ways to approach this issue. However, setting boundaries and realistic expectations around homework is very important for both mom and child. Always encourage your child to try her homework on her own first even if she has to struggle some (pushing through struggles builds confidence and resilience). And instead of always jumping into help, encourage your child to talk to his teacher if he doesn’t understand something (which teaches him how to advocate for himself).
Finally, when and if you do help with homework assignments on occasion, make sure you remind yourself and your child that it is his homework, not yours. You want your child to learn the material and build his confidence, not develop an unhealthy dependence on you (“Mom, I just cannot do my homework without you.”)
3. Accept That Sometimes You’ll Have To Say “No”
But you would make such a great school board member, field trip chaperone, bake sale organizer, classroom coordinator, Girl Scouts leader, soccer team manager… Yes, but you can still say no. Be realistic about how much time you want to devote to volunteering. While it is wonderful to be able to give back to your kids’ school and your community, many of these commitments pull you away from time with your family and time for yourself, which often adds unnecessary stress to your life. Be honest with yourself about how much you can take on and stay true to your boundaries.
4. Don’t Forget That It Takes A Village
Allow yourself to ask for help. Car pool! Don’t be shy! Even if you don’t know the kids on your son’s middle school football team, look at the roster and find a family or two that lives near you and talk to the parents about carpooling. Make sure you and your partner divide up kid and school related responsibilities like going to far-too-many “mandatory” meetings for school and sports, keeping calendars up to date, making sure homework is done, backpacks are packed, lunches are made, permission slips are signed, bedtimes are enforced, kids get up, dressed, eat breakfast, and are ready to go to school on time. (Also, make sure that you and your partner foster your kids’ independence by encouraging them to do as many of these tasks on their own as they can.) Lean on your community for other kinds of support as well—if your child is struggling academically or psychologically, confide in a parent you trust or go to the school counselor for advice and support. And same goes for you; remind yourself that it is ok to lean on other parents and community members when you need extra help or support.
5. Get Organized
We have a big whiteboard in our kitchen where we write the kids’ activities and my husband’s and my evening commitments for the week. This helps everyone see what the week looks like and then my husband and I figure out how we will divide and conquer. We also have a place on the white board for kids to write down what they need as things come up in school (a shoe box for a science experiment, red clay for a history project…) so they are not yelling these items to me as they get out of the car for soccer and I have already forgotten them by the time the car door shuts. This system encourages them to be organized as well, and forces them to take at least partial responsibility for making sure their needs are met. Getting as many things ready the night before (backpacks, lunches, outfits) is a good way to help reduce the stress in the morning. And good communication within the family helps each individual stay organized, as well as the family unit.
6. Prioritize Mental Health
No matter if you stay at home, work part or full time, back to school can be a very stressful time for both kids and parents. To ease some of the inevitable stress of this transition, make sure to prioritize your mental health. Just as you encourage your children to exercise, eat well, and get enough sleep, make sure that you are doing the same! You need to be a strong anchor for your kids, especially during times of change, to help them navigate all the necessary adjustments kids have to make when starting a new school year—new classroom, teachers, new schedule, possibly new kids. So, to help them embrace the change, make sure that you do what you need to take care of yourself and your mental health (even taking deep cleansing breaths on your ride home from work or taking a walk around the block before the kids walk in the door from school) so that you can be calm, patient, engaged, and positive with your children who will most likely be a little off kilter for a few weeks. And if you’ve never tried meditation, this would be a great time to do so!
The best ways to ease the stress of what can be a difficult back-to-school transition is to be positive, set boundaries around homework and volunteer commitments, get organized, and most importantly, take some time for your mental health so that you have the strength to lead your family into this next school year with excitement and intention.