Back to School: Tips for Parents

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For Parents of Young Kids

Back to school can be tough. Here are some tips to help manage the stress.

Routines

Going to school means getting into new routines with no more late nights or late mornings.

  • Find a set bed-time that lets your kids feel well-rested in the morning

  • Practice the back to school routine a few times before the first day (e.g., go to bed, get up, dress, eat breakfast, brush teeth, and be out the door by 8am).

  • Have your child help prepare what you can the night before (pick out clothes, pack healthy lunch your child likes, pack school bag, etc).

  • Talk to your child's school and find out what the routines are. Help your child to understand what is expected – practice new or difficult skills at home before school starts.

Focus on the Positives

Going back to school is easier for everyone if a child has something to look forward to.

  • Purchasing school supplies or clothes with your child is a good way to help your son or daughter become more enthusiastic about starting a new school year.

  • Check with your school to find out what your child will need this year.

  • Try to help your child get excited about school in other ways (e.g., see friends they haven't seen all summer, tell a favourite teacher about their summer vacation).

  • Talk to your child about the fun activities he or she will get to do and the new friends they will make.

New People and Situations

The new school year brings a new classroom setting, with a different teacher and new classmates. When kids know what to expect things are less scary for them.

  • Introducing your child to one or more of his or her classmates ahead of time will ensure making friends is a little easier and less scary (your school may help you connect to other classmates)

  • Visit the school and the teacher with your child. Ask the teacher to explain the school day to your child, and if possible ask to be shown around the classroom.

  • Give your child some ice-breakers that can be shared such as a healthy snack or activity (e.g., marbles or sidewalk chalk if your school allows them).

  • Find out if your child's school has a buddy or mentor system.

Performance Anxiety and Other Worries

Kids can have real worries about starting school. Attending school may be the first time your child experiences clear pressure to do well.

  • Respond to signs of anxiety by talking to your child about school concerns

  • Make time to listen when kids want to talk - review your child's worries one at a time and help them problem solve so they don't become overwhelmed

  • Try not to add to your child's pressures unnecessarily

  • Help your child to understand that no one is good at everything – both parents and kids do better at some things than others.

  • Be involved with school related activities or events - praise your child for positive efforts even if you don't see the results yet.

Gradual Entry

This is a method parents often use when getting children used to a new day care but it can also work with children who are extremely fearful of school. You will need to talk about this idea with your child's teacher to see if your school can accommodate this approach.

  • Examples of gradual entry include staying with your child for part or all of the first day or first few days. Then you gradually stay at school with your child a shorter and shorter amount of time.

  • For some kids gradual entry may only take one or two days. For others it may take a couple of weeks. Let your child be the guide, as every child is different.

  • Some children are happiest if mom or dad always stays while they hang up their jacket and put their bag away before leaving for the day.

  • Tell your child in advance how long you will stay and then stick to your plan.

Bullying

Bullying at school is a serious problem and can, in extreme cases, result in injury or even death. If you suspect that your child is being bullied...

  • Reassure your child that you and the teacher will support him or her.

  • Talk to the teacher or person in charge.

  • Follow up on any action taken and remain involved in the decision making process. Check in often with your son or daughter about how things are going.

  • Keep in mind children may be reluctant to talk due to fear of embarrassment or further harm.

Sometimes problems with going back to school don't go away on their own and may reflect a health problem. Talk to your family physician or health professional about any problems – especially if they are severe or do not resolve on their own after the first few weeks back.

Select Sources and Useful Resources

Facts for Families series from American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

BC Safe, Caring & Orderly Schools

Resources for Families: National Mental Health and Education Center

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For Parents of Teens

Back to school can be tough. Here are some tips to help manage the stress.

Performance Stress

Parents want their kids to do well in school but teens often experience a period of time when their schoolwork suffers.

  • Parents can be an important source of support for teens. Encourage your teen to talk to you or another adult about what is bothering them.

  • Upheavals like a change of school, social problems, increased responsibilities, worries about the future, or changes in the use of alcohol or drugs are common issues related to poor performance that may need to be addressed.

  • Stay involved in your teen's school experience by attending parent-teacher events and school activities (e.g., school performances, plays, and athletic events).

  • Help out with your teen's class projects – don't take over, but try to provide assistance. Both parents and teens can get frustrated so consider rotating which parent is involved and use shorter helping sessions.

  • Be supportive instead of critical. Focus on positive efforts to overcome problems.

  • If particular school subjects are the problem, talk to your school about a plan of action that may include a tutor (family friend or hire privately), or accessing extra resources.

Sleep

For teens, going back to school usually means going to bed and getting up earlier than they would like. Keep in mind that as kids enter their teens they need more sleep, not less.

  • Get your teen used to going to bed and getting up earlier a few days before the first day back to school.

  • Try to avoid scheduling activities before the school day, and limit weekday evening social activities.

  • Encourage teens to make their lunch, pack their school bag and get their clothes ready the night before.

  • Allow your teen to sleep in late on weekends when possible (except if your teen has a health problem that makes a regular sleep-wake cycle every day a healthier choice).

Transition to High School

The transition from elementary or middle school to high school is difficult for many kids.

  • Help your teen find out as much as possible about the high school he or she will be attending.

  • Find out if your teen's high school has a buddy or mentor system.

  • Talk with your teen about his or her expectations and concerns. Keep in mind your teen's experiences may not be the same as your own.

Social Life

Balancing a social life with school life can be difficult. Making friends at school and learning how to build relationships is an important part of your teen's development.

  • Talk openly with your teen about the challenges of friendships and romantic relationships. If you feel comfortable you can share some of your own experiences.

  • Make your home a welcoming place for your teen and his or her friends – take an interest and try to learn more about them.

  • Encourage your teen to talk with trusted and responsible friends about their concerns.

Peer Pressure

Risk taking and experimentation are a normal part of growing up. A good strategy for concerned parents is to help your teen make healthy choices.

  • Be available to talk to your teen about the choices they face with drugs, alcohol and sex.

  • Listen to your teen's preferences and beliefs about drugs, alcohol and sex

  • Make sure you and your teen are informed about alcohol and available drugs along with the risks.

  • Frequent short talks have more of an impact than infrequent long talks – provide opportunities for your teen to discuss the challenges they face as they develop their own personal identity and make their own choices.

Bullying

Bullying at school is a serious problem and can, in extreme cases, result in injury or even death. If you suspect that your child is being bullied...

  • Reassure your child that you and the teacher will support him or her.

  • Talk to the teacher or person in charge.

  • Follow up on any action taken and remain involved in the decision making process. Check in often with your son or daughter about how things are going.

  • Keep in mind children may be reluctant to talk due to fear of embarrassment or further harm.

Sometimes problems with going back to school don't go away on their own and may reflect a health problem. Talk to your family physician or health professional about any problems – especially if they are severe or do not resolve on their own after the first few weeks back.

Select Sources and Useful Resources

Facts for Families series from American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

BC Safe Schools and Communities Centre

Resources for Families: National Mental Health and Education Center