Julie McIsaac
September 28, 2022

Back to school tips: Preparing for the long game

Back to school is a life transition. How can we ease anxiety? Here are 4 back to school tips to help you and your child be prepared.

You’ve probably noticed the signs in the stores or the targeted ads on your social media feed; it’s officially time to start thinking about Back to School. There are lists of things you should buy, things you should do, things you should know. Some of us will love these lists—structure!  Some of us will feel a bit of stress with these lists—more to think about (facepalm).  No matter which group you are in, I leave you with the advice of my 10-year-old,

“Don’t overthink it.”

Easy for him to say. He’s 10 and he’s now an experienced time-to-go-back-to-school kid. It was certainly not always like that. Even though he doesn’t remember the details of the early days of school in the early years (I sure as heck do), his advice serves as a reminder to us as parents, we are already doing the work to prepare our kids for this transition. No matter your journey, your family has experienced transitions. Some are bigger than others and some are harder than others. Back-to-school is a life transition. So, let’s do what we can to ease our children’s anxiety while remembering that we know our kids. We have these tools, we’ve got this.

Start by remembering what has worked in the past.

Does your child like to have a visual schedule? Do they like to look at photos or read a social story to help familiarize themselves with an upcoming event or activity? Maybe they want to ask you the same questions over and over again, this could be a way of coping with nervous feelings—a way to hold onto what’s known when anticipating a mostly unknown situation.*

Ease the transition by breaking it down into steps.

Think about what the transition to school means in your family. Will there be a change from summer schedules? A new lunchbox to get used to? New shoes to figure out or itchy tags to remove? When you break it down into steps you can do a bit at a time to help lessen the load. For many of us, a new bedtime/wake-up routine is a big one and often takes some time. See if you can get up and out those last days of summer so the shock of the early school day is less shocking.

Anticipate what may be asked of your child in those first few days.

For younger ones, this could be forming a line, exploring the play structure, or sitting on a carpet. Maybe it’s putting things into a cubby, zipping up their jacket, or it could be a request to share something they did over the summer. Take the opportunity to practice one or two things before the start of the school year to help build your child’s confidence in an area they may need the boost. A conversation in the car or at the table remembering a few summer adventures may help keep that information available for your child when they need to access it.

And finally, feel all the feels.

When you are running around trying to get the clothes sorted and the food prepared and your child is asking you that same question for the umpteenth time or is acting out for no apparent reason, take pause and remember they are feeling a version of this stress too. Share with them that you can imagine how scary this must be for them to start at a new school with new friends or a new teacher. Remind them of the things you know, the tools you have. Remind them you are a team, and you’ve got this.

*Share these reflections with your child’s teaching team. One pager or “meet my child” letters like this one are a great way to start the year off as a cohesive team.

  • Julie McIsaac, Ph.D.

    Child Development and Disability Advisor

    Julie specializes in working with children and families with diverse developmental profiles She uses reflective practice, emotion-coaching, play and a relationship-based framework to support skill building in the areas of emotional-regulation and problem-solving. Julie consults with families, schools and community organizations. As a parent, she understands the need to have a cohesive team supporting a child and family.

    Profile Photo of Julie McIsaac
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