Approved by the What’s Up Moms Medical Advisory Board
“ Our whole household gets a little harried around this time every year. Any advice to help ease the transition back to school?”
Every year I get questions like this from parents who want advice on how to start the new school year on the right foot — i.e calmly, without too much anxiety. Here are some tips to hopefully empower you to help your children ease into the school year as smoothly as possible.
1) Begin with breakfast
I know, you’ve heard it a million times. But it’s actually proven that eating breakfast makes a difference. It’s associated with better academic performance, decreased behavioral problems, decreased obesity, and improved concentration. (And for adults, it’s been found to lower the risk of heart disease and obesity, so maybe you want to have a bite with your kids?). The best breakfast combines carbs, protein and healthy fat, which should sustain steady blood sugar levels for about 3 hours, whereas a pure-carb breakfast (like a plain bagel) will typically sustain a child for just 1-2 hours. So think oatmeal with fruit and nuts. Egg and toast. Yogurt and fruit. A good old fashioned PB&J is a great grab-and-go option.
2) Get sleep on track
Ideally, you’d start moving bedtime up before school starts so that by the first day of school, body clocks are adjusted. A little extra quality sleep during the first week of school can do wonders to help soften the nerves.
3) Optimize backpacks
Kids should carry no more than 10-15% of their body weight in their backpacks. Tight, narrow shoulder straps can dig into the shoulders and interfere with circulation and nerves, so look for two wide, padded shoulder straps (and make sure your kid wears both of them instead of slinging the backpack over one shoulder!). Lighten the load by keeping non-essentials at home.
4) Ease first day jitters
Transitions can be nerve-wracking for kids and parents alike. (During my twins’ recent preschool transition, I was definitely more nervous than they were!). Remember to try to keep your own emotions in check, since parental anxiety tends to trigger or exacerbate stress in children. If your kid is starting a new school, it helps to have a “dry run” in advance to walk the halls, see their new classroom and get a feel for the place. Show them where the nurse’s office, bathrooms, and water fountains are too; it seems small, but knowing where to go for those basic needs can be calming to kids. At the very least, talk through the school day’s general structure in advance.
5) Create a more relaxing routine at home
Minimize stress where you can. This could mean:
- packing lunches and choosing outfits the night before
- creating a checklist for your child’s morning tasks, with some incentive to get through them all independently (i.e. if you’re all done and ready for school early, you can get an extra 10 minutes of screen time).
- Developing a sweet and simple goodbye ritual to keep morning dropoff smooth and minimize separation anxiety. (My twins love to send me off with a “tushy-push”… they laugh at my exaggerated stumble away and get to feel like they’re in control when they say goodbye.)
6) Pencil in playtime
This is a big one! Make sure every day includes some unstructured play time for your child. In September 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a policy report on the power of play. There’s such a strong body of research indicating that in addition to all the skills that playing helps to develop, play also leads to decreased stress — especially for younger kids. So schedule in “unscheduled time.” And if you’re lucky, that space might leave you with a few more moments to unwind and take a breather yourself. Maybe.