Seven Ways to Survive Back-to-School

by Deanna Lawson

Even though I know it’s coming, back-to-school seems to always catch me off guard. A new school year is typically charged with emotions for both kids and parents. We are feeling it in our house as my rising high school freshman, junior, and college junior are mentally transitioning to the end of summer. They are excited, ready to see friends, not ready to do homework, remembering their summer reading assignments (“So Mom, I need this book. Now.”), and feeling anxious (some more than others). Sound familiar? Tackling back-to-school tasks, establishing routines, and family planning look different for everyone.

You are doing a good job! You are loving your kids well. Emails, forms, and planning (read and unread, completed or not) do not determine our worth as parents.

One of my dearest friends is the second most organized person I know (the most organized person I know is likely to be reading this blog post). As of today, I know she is completely ready for her daughters to begin their junior and senior years with everything they need purchased, all the important dates on the calendar, and quite possibly meals planned through September. Another dear friend of mine will call me the night before school starts to find out when the first bell rings. I am not the person who holds the secret to the perfect task list, but I do have 20 years of experience with first days of school – preschool through college – and I’m still counting. Here are seven things I have learned from what I have done, left undone, and probably should have done:

1. Talk about what to expect this year, socially and academically, in advance. The unknown is uncomfortable and perhaps scary. Having impromptu, casual conversations about academics, workload, friendships, and social pressure is easier in the summer without the anxiety of living it in real-time. Summer is a great time to talk through plans for overcoming academic challenges or fears, social anxiety, making friends, letting go, looking forward, and establishing priorities. My kids participate more in these conversations than when I’m in lecture mode, and I learn a lot about what’s going on with them. I think it reassures them that I’m here to support them through it all.

2. If needed, do a school walk-through. If you have an anxious child, just do it. The teachers are back, and the school is quiet. I have this kid. When she was little, we walked the routes she would take to her classroom, cafeteria, playground, library, etc. It was a game-changer. I knew that she would do great and be well-loved, but she needed to see for herself that she would not get lost. For older kids who are transitioning to a different school, help them find their way through a bigger school environment and show them how to open a locker. Practice with a lock at home.

3. Do something fun! Take a break from plowing through emails, filling out forms, shopping, organizing carpools, doctor appointments, etc., and do something for a day (or two) as a family that is fun. It could be as simple as a family feast or swim night, a hike, a day trip, or attending Press Play Weekend at SJD (yes, I just did that). The point is to step back, relax, laugh, and celebrate the end of summer and the upcoming school year together.

4. Reconnect with school friends and classmates that you have not seen over the summer. It makes walking in that first day more comfortable.

5. Do some prep work (a little or maybe more…it’s your call).

  • General Prep: Fill out those back-to-school forms now or in the next few days because more are coming! Give the school calendar a glance or two to avoid missing anything important that happens before the first day. Think about easy breakfasts, school lunches, and what is needed to make it happen. Maybe stock up early because there is no pain like the grocery store before school starts.
  • Sports: Getting the physicals, the right cleats, socks … it’s endless. I have learned the hard way that I will not find what they need the day before school starts or on the first day of practice. While kids will survive not having “it” on the first day of practice, they are happier when they do. I have also learned that the most expensive gear will NOT enhance the athletic performance of a 4-year-old future all-star. Get shoes in the color and style they like and save the money until their feet quit growing every five minutes. Younger kids need to be comfortable and happy, not social media influencers. At some point, their adult-sized bodies that go hard all day really do need the right gear that their coaches specify.
  • Clothes: As my kids get older, I have learned that holding back is the best strategy. We will buy a few things in advance, including a planned look for the all-important first day, and a few additional things after they have studied what others are doing. This strategy has eliminated the costly, frenzied shopping sprees that result in clothes left untouched, and made me a nicer person.

6. Create a schedule. It’s a goal. I have big dreams. See my summer schedule below. :)

Back to School

7. Create a night-before-the-first-day ritual. I don’t waiver on this. For us, it’s Spaghetti Dinner Night with ice cream cake. It’s easy, expected, and cherished. We cook together, eat on barstools around the kitchen island, play music, dance, and talk over each other. We may or may not swim, take a walk, or watch a movie. We don’t make plans or run errands. The only back-to-school prep the kids will do is laying out their clothes (they will never do it again), taking showers, and getting their backpacks ready. They may or may not go to sleep early, but they will be exhausted enough to do it the next night.

Those first few hectic weeks will slow down as we settle into new rhythms and routines, and I want to encourage you before we land there. You are doing a good job! You are loving your kids well. Emails, forms, and planning (read and unread, completed or not) do not determine our worth as parents. Like our children, we are created and loved by God, chosen for the children entrusted to us. Let’s hold onto that as we support each other and say goodbye to summer.

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