After helping families for two decades, Santa Barbara clinical psychologist Andrea Gurney Ph.D. clearly understands back-to-school anxieties.
With two daughters, ages 7 and 5, she can relate on a personal level, too. In fact, she just found herself reassuring her youngest about starting kindergarten.
She offers this wisdom for parents.
10 Ways to Mentally Prepare Your Child for School
» Get kids on a sleep schedule. Elementary school students should get as much as 10 to 11 hours a night. Teens could use at least eight to 10.
“Our brain functions best when we are well rested,” Gurney said.
Benefits go beyond being ready to learn.
“Emotionally, we are more stable, and we don’t have the highs and the lows,” she said.
» Talk and ask questions about school-related topics. Start a conversation about classes or classmates, and even bring up homework, “because there’s going to be some,” she said.
» Work together to create a structured school routine.
“For younger kids, it’s great to come up with a responsibility chart,” Gurney advised.
» Acknowledge feelings — including negative ones. Parents have a natural tendency to dismiss worries or jump into problem solving, when simply recognizing and relating to concerns can do wonders. You might say, “Oh, I totally get that,” or “That’s a bummer,” to show understanding and neutralize the conversation. Then you can problem solve together.
» See the school and teacher ahead of time. Most schools provide preview opportunities. You might also drop in when it’s not as busy to get a better look at a new school or more teacher time.
» Reassure and relate through picture books. There are plenty of titles for younger kids, including classics like Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten.
» Set up a school work zone. Designate a drawer or desk, or simply select a common space like a kitchen nook. Decide together where it will be, based on what works best for the whole family.
» Talk through expectations, especially for older kids. The conversation can cover academics as well as extracurriculars, with goals to strike the right balance.
» Make back-to-school shopping fun. Let children be a part of picking out pencils, lunchboxes, backpacks and outfits.
“We can get kids more excited if we do it together,” Gurney said.
» Be a role model. Parents may have their own anxieties about the school year and responsibilities that go with it. Don’t dwell on it with your kids, but do talk with your spouse or another adult about concerns and look for other positive coping outlets for stress.