Beginning a New School Year - Healthy Strategies for Families and Kids
Bryn A., Program Manager at BC Children's Kelty Centre on August 17, 2018
In early August, as the back to school signs begin to pop up in stores, I am reminded that there are only a few weeks left in our summer before we begin the transition to a new school year. As a parent of two, I find myself experiencing mixed emotions. Part of me feels a bit sad, as the summer has offered a care-free schedule (minus a few weeks of early morning starts at day camps), opportunities to try new activities together, visits with family and friends, and ice-cream on summer patios. The other part of me however can feel anxious and overwhelmed by a variety of worries as the first day draws near, including:
- Will my child be treated well by other kids? Will he be bullied? Have I taught him how to protect himself?
- How will my child adjust to new teachers, classroom environments? Will she continue to enjoy school, be curious and want to learn? Will she meet the basic performance milestones for her age in the classroom?
- How will I support them and encourage them to take risks and practice age appropriate independence?
- How can I get her to talk about her feelings on the good and challenging days? Does she have coping strategies that can get her through the stressful moments?
In these moments, I literally say out loud – ‘STOP’ a technique I learned to interrupt my negative thoughts. I pause, take a few deep breaths and instead start thinking how can I best help prepare my child, my family and myself for a new school year. And here’s what that experience looks like:
- Schedule self-care. Knowing the importance and benefits self-care can bring to my mental health and wellness, I schedule in daily self-care practice. Even if it’s only 5-10 minutes a day, I block time in my calendar for things that will ground me, bring me calmness, joy and allow me to breathe. Read here for some examples to inspire you.
- Review resources to help me get organized. AnxietyBC has a number of great resources for parents to help you prepare for the school year. Check out their Back to School Checklist and video on separation anxiety
As a Family:
- Look for opportunities to support a healthy lifestyle. Healthy eating, physical activity, and good sleep habits, are essential for the family to have the energy we all need to be living well. Explore some ideas here.
- Model and practice healthy stress management skills. The start of a new school year is a great time for families to develop or revisit healthy stress management strategies. Check out Stresslr.ca a BC Children’s Hospital online resource for kids that offers belly breathing and muscle relaxation videos. Practice them together.
- Work together to establish new routines - Two weeks before the start of school I gradually shift back to our “school days” routine – consistent and earlier wake up times, age appropriate independence which in our house includes getting dressed, eating breakfast as a family, brushing teeth, packing bag/lunch, reviewing and practicing walking or drive route, etc.
- Talk time - Create the time to talk to kids about their feelings around starting a new school year. If you have younger kids, you can head to your local library and take out some books on this topic. Reading together often serves as a great conversation starter.
- Schedule in fun and relaxation time. Just as we schedule time for homework, arts, clubs, sports, etc., we need to schedule in activities that will offer social connection and down time. Evidence has shown these to be protective factors against the risk of developing mental health challenges/disorders.
- If your child experiences any anxiety related to going back to school, listen to our Pinwheel Education Series recording on this topic: keltymentalhealth.ca/r/pinwheel-education-series-recording-back-school-anxiety
- Heading off to Kindergarten: Expose them to their new school, routine and relationships well before school begins. In August, head over to the school to play on the playground (let them master and build confidence and familiarity with this activity), take them for a tour inside their school, show them where their classroom is, the main office, say hi to the principal/their teacher, show them where the washrooms are and let them use them, review the gradual entry schedule, plan a special activity to celebrate them attending on their first day.
- Grades 1 and Beyond: In addition to the suggestions above, schedule playdates in the weeks leading up to school so they can reconnect with friends, have a calendar that shows when the first day of school is so they can see it coming, perhaps plan to walk to school with one of their friend’s families so they can arrive together.