Solving Families’ Back-to-School Jitters

By Rebecca Honig and Françoise Lartigue, Ready4K content leads

“It’s back to school time!”  If you are like me, reading that phrase may have given you a jolt of anxiety. And if you are like me, that anxiety may feel a little EXTRA this year. 

The thing that’s bringing me comfort, as I look towards that big first day of a big new school year, is remembering my daughter Sadie’s first day of Kindergarten. 

In preparation for the big event I had spent months diligently worrying that she would not, in fact, be ready for school. I imagined everything that could go wrong like it was my full time job. I spent hours preparing for unfortunate situations.

What if she’s too shy to ask where her desk is and spends the day hiding in the coat closet because she doesn’t know where to go? What if she gets stuck in a bathroom stall? What if she loses circulation while sitting crisscross applesauce during a really long-read aloud?

It was really exhausting to be soooo great at worrying. 

Shareables In This Article

Let’s Get Ready for School! Tips for Building a Just-Right Routine (English & Spanish)

Routines Rock! 10 Tips and Tricks for Dealing with Back-to-School Jitters (English & Spanish)

Invitation to NAFSCE & USDOE Parent Town Hall

CDC Back-to-School Recommendations for Parents

Managing Anxiety During Reopening by Childmind (English & Spanish)

SAMHSA Hotline (English & Spanish)

The Banana Plan

When the big day finally arrived my heart was in my throat. I was ready to call the whole thing off. Maybe we could wait another year or two to start this kindergarten thing? 

But right as I was about to phone the school and request that we defer kindergarten until Sadie was eight or nine or fifteen, the most amazing thing happened. 

Sadie came down from her room all dressed in her “first day outfit,” grabbed her backpack, pulled out her lunchbox, the one I’d packed tight with all her most favorite foods, unzipped it, looked in, and said, “Mom. We need to add a fake banana to this lunch.” 

“What?” I asked, totally confused by the request. 

“You know the plastic banana from my pretend kitchen? I need to put it in my lunch.” She insisted. 

“Why?” I probed.

“Because.” She replied as if the answer was the most obvious thing in the world. “At lunch time I’m going to pull the fake banana out of my lunchbox and say… ‘Oh man… my parents packed me a fake banana for lunch!’ And it’s going to be funny. And THAT is how I’m going to make friends.”

All that time, while I was busy worrying, Sadie was coming up with a wonderful plan. A useful plan. A plan that was going to help her overcome her own anxieties about making friends. A plan that was going to help her feel secure and confident. With that fake banana at her side, Sadie was READY for her first day of school. 

While we ALL have experienced transitions in our lives, true to Sadie and her fake banana solution, the strategies we use to navigate them differ.  Strategies for coping aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. And my colleague Françoise is here to share some transition time insights and resources as we all try to find our own fake banana strategy.

Resources for Building Back-To-School Success

Whether it’s building friendship with a fake banana or another “just right for you” support strategy, one thing is clear.  The transition of going back to school (or starting school for the first time) can be challenging for everyone. Why? It’s simple. The start of something new or different usually brings a change in the habits and routines that we are used to.

We, as humans, thrive on habit and routines. Change, even if it’s something you feel excitement about, can create unease.  So adults might find themselves feeling anxious, stressed, or on-edge. And children might experience big feelings that play out in increased crankiness or whining, trouble sleeping, or clinginess—to name a few. The added emotional weight of transitions is real and part of what makes them a challenge to navigate.

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For many families, this coming school year might mean even more anxiety, jitters and apprehension. The pandemic has caused so much change.  For some, this back-to-school season marks the first time students have been in the school building in over 18 months! 

Wherever you and the families you serve are during this back-to-school season, Ready4K is here to support this transitional time with resources. Some we’ve created ourselves using the Ready4K Way. Feel free to share these easy-to-use and actionable resources with your families. Other resources resonated with us as good sources of concrete information and guidance for families. All are for you to investigate, use, and share. And we hope everyone is able to find their own “fake banana” within these resources.

Getting Ready for School

Dealing with back-to-school jitters is the focus of this Ready4K resource. Designed for mobile viewing, it sets out a variety of ways parents and caregivers can support their children as they get ready to go back to school.

Routines Rock!

Creating routines is key to helping kids and families navigate the back-to-school transition. This Ready4K resource, also formatted for phone viewing, offers guiding questions and ideas that  families can use in building into their own get ready for school routine.

Resources In Our Library

The pandemic’s influence on the educational landscape has left many parents and caregivers feeling confused and overwhelmed about what in-person instruction this Fall will look like. On July 29, 2021 NAFSCE and the US Department of Education will host a town hall meeting to answer parents’ pressing back-to-school questions.

Parent town hall on July 29, 2021, offered by NAFSCE, United Parent Leaders Action Network, and US DOE

This CDC resource is aimed at helping both parents and educators of young children navigate Covid-19 restrictions and the return to child care settings or school.

CDC resource for navigating post-pandemic back-to-school

The Child Mind Institute offers helpful advice for parents and caregivers on coping with reopening anxiety. Support is available in both English and Spanish.

Child Mind Institute resource for coping with reopening anxiety

Sometimes anxiety can become too much to handle. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a helpline for those who are experiencing powerful feelings and stress that make it hard to get through the day.  Dial 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to be connected with a counselor. Support is available in English and Spanish

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