Four tips to reduce back-to-school stress

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IndigoWhether it’s the first full day of kindergarten, the start of his senior year, or it’s off to college–getting back into the routine of school is a transition.  And let’s be honest.  Transitioning back-to-school in the fall can be stressful. These four tips will help smooth over some of the most common rough spots during that first week of school.

1. Avoid the urge to splurge:  While our consumer culture would have us believe our kids won’t be ready without that new pair of shoes, brand name sweatshirt, or fancy backpack—it’s just not true.

Yes, yes, kids grow and sometimes they need new clothes.  I get that.  If you’re into the whole gotta-have-the-newest-back-to-school-fashions scene, hey—knock yourself out.  Go forth and stimulate thy economy.  But don’t do it under any illusion that it will make your child more “ready.”  Fashion has nothing to do with quality learning.  In fact, it’s probably counter productive.

I teach eighth grade.  But I’m also a dad.  Trust me.  Hand-me-downs and garage sales will set you up just fine.  And by the way–don’t rush out to buy new school supplies until you’ve cleaned up around the house either.  Chances are you’ve probably got some pencils, folders and half-filled spiral notebooks and glue bottles lying around too.  Use them up.

2. Talk about it. Popular culture would have you believe that nobody likes going back to school in the fall.  Not true.  You might be surprised how many students are actually thrilled for school to start back up.  Kids have lots of reasons to look forward to a new school year: seeing friends, alleviating boredom, getting back into a routine, a fresh start.

Talk to your kids about how they feel and what they see for themselves this year.  Do they have any hopes or anxieties?  Do you?  Be honest with each other, but frame things positively.  Expectations should be agreed upon from the start.  Keep them high but manageable.  Everyone likes a challenge.  Jot down a few short-term goals, stick them on the fridge, and revisit them after the first month or so.

3. Talk about it some more.  Pick your spots, and continue the dialog.  Reflecting together about the school year ahead should be an ongoing conversation. New thoughts, ideas and concerns may pop up.  Make these discussions spontaneous and relaxed.  Focus on the positive.  This type of open and ongoing conversation, should help both of you imagine a positive start to the school year.

4.  Explore.  This is a great preparation tip for anyone, but especially if your student will be attending a different school or environment this year.  It also is very helpful if there’s some anxiety or something different about the transportation to school.   Do some dry runs.  How long does it take to walk to the bus stop?  If your student walks or bikes to school, time and travel the route with them.  This is a great time to talk about the upcoming year as well.

But don’t stop there.  Actually go to the school.  Play on the playground. Walk in the doors.  If he/she has one, see if you can find your student’s homeroom.  It’s a myth that teachers don’t work during the summer.  So, especially in August, chances are pretty good you’ll run into teachers getting ready too.  Impromptu and casual meetings like this go a long way toward giving your student confidence during those first few days and weeks of school.

As parents, we all want the best for our kids.  At any age, going back to school (or beginning school) represents a change not only for the student, but also the entire family.  Change can be stressful.  So save your money; talk about your mutual hopes, fears and goals; facilitate an ongoing positive dialog; and do some exploring and practice runs.  Oh, and remember to read next week’s column for a few more easy back-to-school tips you can use all year long to lower stress and nurture learning all year long.

Founder of, Chris Wondra is just another Wisconsin public school teacher. Find We Teach We Learn on Facebook and Twitter for daily tips on getting the most out of your brain. Email Chris at: .

Image credit:   Scott Wills

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