The first day of school is right around the corner and some parents (and children) are panicking. With that being said, we asked seven mental health professionals to share their favorite back to school tips to survive the first day of school.

8 Mental Health Professionals Share Tips to Survive the First Day of School

“Process the First Day of School Over Ice Cream.” – Dr. Frank Gaskill

One of the biggest changes for kids when it comes to going back to school is a change in routine. Getting up earlier in the morning, learning new class schedules, and getting back into the habit of studying and homework.

One way to help kids who are headed back to school is to add a new ritual and routine that they can look forward to each week. Mondays are usually the toughest.

After the first day of school, I recommend surprising your child or children with a quick trip to your local ice cream parlor, which in my case is Ben & Jerry’s. Instead of bombarding them with questions in the car and asking them how their day went, just say, “we’re headed to Ben & Jerry’s!“

Once you have your ice cream and you’re sitting down, the kids are more likely to be able to tell you about their day casually while enjoying a little bit of quiet time with their parent(s).

Having kids open up especially when they are teenagers is not always easy, so by coming alongside them rather than direct questioning and interrogation, they are more likely to share and decompress.

“Effort Over Outcome.” – Laura Hamilton, NCC

It can be incredibly easy for anyone to get caught up in the “dream scenario” of what school should look like… the 4.0 GPA, perfect attendance, never forgetting a school assignment, etc.

Instead, try to refocus your attention to effort.

For example, instead of rewarding or hoping for the A+ on a test, look for and celebrate when you stick with a study guide despite feeling confused or frustrated! If you study for 3 hours for a quiz and still get a B, ask yourself, did I give this my best effort?

If the answer is yes, then that is good enough! If perfectionism is getting in the way, check out this article on how it could be holding you back.

“When You Receive Your Child’s School Schedule, Start Making Phone Calls.” – Dr. Trey Ishee

Once you receive your child’s schedule, call other parents or have your child call their friends. It’s important to know who they have classes with. Knowing the class roster reduces uncertainty about the first day of school, especially for your child.

Furthermore, if your child is in Middle School or High School, find out what lunch period they have and who they are having lunch with. Lunch is an opportunity to socialize with friends and meet new people at school.

“Calming the Nerves.” – Dr. Melissa Miller

Most kids feel nervous about either starting or returning to school. Kids need to hear that it is normal and okay to feel some jitters about the first day.

When a kid says, “I’m scared!” and parents respond with “Don’t be! There’s nothing to be afraid of!” it shuts a kid down and doesn’t help them feel any better.

Did you ever feel better when people told you not to feel the way you did? NO!

The best response you can have when your child shares their fears is “Tell me about it.”  Listen and ask about what they are specifically worried about. Ask them if they think there is anything that can help them to feel less scared about the first day of school.

If there is nothing to be done, share with them that it is normal to feel first day flutters and you are here for them to talk. Encourage them to be brave, and remind them that the first day will be over soon.

“Invest in Organization.” – Dr. Craig Pohlman

Before the school year starts, and life gets really hectic, take the time to establish organization systems with your child.

Those systems will vary depending on age and demands, but may include things like hanging file folders (color-coded by subject), a whiteboard calendar for displaying assignments and deadlines, and labeled spots for storing items and materials.

Students with laptops or tablets may need a set of folders and subfolders for categorizing documents. Of course, systems will be adjusted once the year rolls, but it will pay off to have the foundation established before work piles up and pressure rises!

“Encourage Goal Setting.” – Dr. Kelly Bolton

Prior to, or within the first few days of school, ask your kids if there is anything they’d like to accomplish or something they’d like to improve on this year. This could be anything from finishing the mile run in 10 minutes or less, to turn in homework on time, or even join a new friend group.

Not only will you gain valuable insight into things that matter to your child, but it could even inform your decision making when faced with numerous demands for your time and energy. To take this a step further, ask your child what they plan to do to work on their goal and how you can support them along the way.

Setting even small goals can provide kids with extra motivation to keep going when faced with challenges, and can really boost confidence and self-esteem.

“Build New Relationships.” – Dr. Dave Verhaagen

The start of school gives you the opportunity to build new relationships with potential friends. It’s a natural time to show interest and curiosity to others, which is one of the best ways to start friendships.

Ask people in your classes or at lunch open questions like, “What was the biggest highlight of your summer?” or “What were the main things you did this summer?”

Asking questions like this, rather than just asking, “How was your summer?” makes the other person more likely to talk more and it gives you a better chance at keeping a conversation going.

A good rule of thumb is that “people like people who like them,” which means if you show people you are interested in them, they will tend to like you.

“Create a Solid Support System.” – Bea Moise, M.S.

Here are some tips to create a solid support system to help you navigate the return to school both in-home and school.

Emotional Support: Start an open dialogue with your child so they can have space to freely voice their concerns and or anxiety that they may be experiencing about returning to school. Ask your child if they require support in the form of a listening ear or guidance on how to navigate a situation.

School Support: Start a communication thread between your child’s teacher and guidance counselor. A simple email sent to the school staff to inform them about who your child is, and some tips of what has worked in the past can be beneficial.

Home Support: A schedule or routine board at home to help everyone know what the expectations for after school. The transition from unstructured summer to school does not have to be hard. Writing an afternoon routine such as Snack – Homework – Break – Homework – Free time – can help both you and your child ease into the school year.

2 Bonus Tips From Our Media Department

“Parents, Please Check Your Anxiety.” – Brandon Gage

Do you have your schedule? Don’t be late for the bus. What school supplies are you missing? Don’t be late for the bus. Do you have your lunch money? DON’T BE LATE FOR THE BUS!

I was late for the bus. And because I was so focused on NOT missing the bus, I forgot my lunch money on the kitchen counter. Better luck next year, kid.

All jokes aside, I ended up having a wonderful first day of school. I hitched a ride with one of my friends, and his mom gave me five dollars for lunch.

The first day of school is a different experience for everyone. Some kids are nervous and fearful, whereas others are loaded with excitement and anticipation. The same is typically true for parents.

For more anxious parents, try to remember the first day of school doesn’t have to be perfect. Bombarding your child with questions and concerns could make your child more anxious and nervous.

Set your child up for success.

If your child doesn’t have their schedule, it’s okay. The teachers understand it’s the first day of school. Forgot some school supplies? Buy them tomorrow. Did your child miss the bus? Drive them to school or find a parent who can.

There are 180 days in a typical school year. If the first day of school doesn’t go as planned it’s not the end of the world. You (and your child) have another 179 days to get it right.

“The First Day of School Is NOT a Fashion Show – Just Be Comfortable.” – Mariel Butler

After spending three months in bathing suits, shorts, and baggy t-shirts, I was one of the many people who would get super excited over getting a new wardrobe to wear for back-to-school. 

After all, if you don’t wear an amazing (read: uncomfortable) brand-new outfit on your first day, the whole school year will be bad. At least, that’s what my 13-year-old self thought.

First things first, clothes can absolutely be a form of self-expression. When your child uses their clothes as a way to re-define their constantly evolving identity, it is normal and fun!

That said, keep your child in check while going clothes shopping for back to school.

If they want to use their clothes to express themselves, you should encourage that. If they are overly concerned with looking trendy to seek validation from others, re-center their priorities. 

If you see this as a struggle for your child, tell them this: Self-confidence isn’t easy for everyone, so don’t make it harder on yourself! Even though you may look cool in that new pair of shoes that everyone likes, having gnarly blisters is painful, and distracting. You’ve got to love yourself before others can love you.

There’s a happy middle-ground with looking cool and feeling great about yourself—let’s help our children aim for that.

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