Back to school season is back, mamas! And so is the mad rush to prepare our kids for a new school year amid an ongoing pandemic. From shopping for school supplies to attending school meet and greets, we are busy bees. Additionally, our kids depend on us to help them transition to a new grade, a new class, and a new slew of academic lessons and social experiences. This may feel overwhelming for your children, especially after a year of remote learning, pandemic-related grief and anxiety, and non-stop change. As parents, we need to be their rock, preparing them for what’s to come this back to school season in whatever way we can. It begins with learning and implementing strategies to mentally and emotionally prepare our kids. Mara Sammartino, LCSW, suggests starting by including your kids in the back-to-school prep. For example, they can choose their back-to-school outfits or help with packing up their lunch. “This helps foster communication but also inclusion which boosts self-esteem and confidence,” Sammartino tells HipLatina.
To add to the excitement and ease their nerves, you can also do fun back-to-school activities. For my 5-year-old son, I created a back-to-school countdown chain out of construction paper. Every day he pulls off one of the “chains” and feels much more at ease with starting a new school year. As for the first day of school, according to Dr. Susana Marquez, LMRT and founder of Heal and Grow Therapy, “it helps to give kids a security item that reminds them of a parent.” This can be a small keychain that they keep in their pocket or backpack. This is especially helpful for younger kids that struggle with school drop off due to separation anxiety. For older kids, an extra sweet and reassuring touch suggested by Marquez is to add notes inside their lunch-box. These notes can “provide encouragement or the promise of fun activities after school.”
No matter how old your kids are, returning to school often fills them with a whirlwind of emotions. One way to emotionally support your child is to “normalize and validate whatever they are feeling at the time,” advises Katheryn Perez, LMFT and founder of Katheryn Perez Therapy. “This will help them feel seen and supported during this transition.” And if the waterworks begin, Marquez says to encourage them to have fun and to come home with one great story to share with you. Once at home they can tell you all about their day one-on-one. As difficult as it might be to cultivate this time, Sammartino believes it is essential to not only create space after school to decompress, but to also spend quality time with each child. You can do so by setting a time limit to speak with each child. To make that time especially special, “use open-ended questions such as, what is something unique you learned today? Tell me about a fun or interesting person you met?” and “what is something that you didn’t like today?”
Other conversations with your child should also center around setting healthy routines and positive behavior. “As school begins, we want to make sure that we are also focusing on the positive changes and behaviors that your child is engaging in,” Perez says. At this time it’s important to “encourage and motivate your child to engage in behaviors that you want them to repeat, or that helps them feel responsible and involved.” You can do so by creating a consistent morning schedule, acknowledging their positive attitude, and providing a safe space to encourage them to talk about their feelings. And don’t forget about positive reinforcement! Some great examples from Perez include:
Thank you for waking up on time this morning.
You did such a great job following your morning routine.
You are working so hard on your homework, I am so proud of you!
Thank you for sharing your snacks in class. You are such a good friend!
You are being so patient. I appreciate it!
If you can’t recall these statements at that moment, focus on validating their feelings. Marquez suggests doing so by “providing a sense of safety and comfort by normalizing their feelings and listening to their worries and fears.” In the end, whether they are nervous about the school culture or joyous about the new art program, our kids want to feel heard when speaking about going back to school. As mommas, we need to “allow them the space to share what they are thinking or feeling.”
We also need to empower our kids to solve their own problems, especially regarding peer-to-peer relationships. “This is hard for most of us as parents, we want to keep our children safe, but when we take their decision making power away we reinforce the negative feelings of inadequacy or lack of confidence,” Sammartino says. Empower your kids during back to school season by asking questions like, “Do you want advice or information?” and by listening intently to their request. All in all, our role as mamas during back to school season and beyond is to ease the pressure and ensure our kids are heard, loved, and supported. Take the time to tap into what they’re feeling and be there for them like only a mama can.