Kristen Pennock watched as her 4-year-old daughter, Lily, ran to the window in their living room wearing her sparkly pink unicorn backpack, while she talked to her 11-year-old son Josh.
“I’m excited for football,” Josh said.
“You’re also excited to see your friends again,” Pennock added, with Josh shaking his head in agreement.
Lily is going into pre-kindergarten, while Josh will head to seventh grade and 14-year-old Brady will be off to high school in a few weeks.
Pennock has already gotten their backpacks, but doesn’t need to get their school supplies because the Cortland Enlarged City School District provides them.
However, getting ready for school isn’t just about picking out the right backpack, getting the coolest sneakers or outfit ready, it’s also about getting back into a routine and getting mentally and emotionally prepared.
Getting ready to go back
Pennock is getting her kids ready to go back is by pushing to go to bed earlier as they get closer to school, that way the kids are well rested.
“The older they get, the later they stay up in the summer,” she said. “We start that (the bedtime routine) like two weeks before school starts.”
Pennock also gets her kids into the habit of having them determine how much time they need to be ready in the morning so they can figure out when they need to be up.
But she’s also making sure she talks to them about situations they may run into at school and what may make them nervous.
“When they were young it was about being kind and making good choices,” she said. “Now, you’re making sure they know what resources they have like mental health resources. They don’t want to ask for help. They don’t know how to approach an adult and say ‘hey I need something,’ so I spend a lot of time with them talking to them about here’s who you can go to.”
Josh has been the most open about telling her some of his anxieties, of which include a varying class schedule.
“He has to plan out when he has to go to his locker,” she said. “He’s lucky because he’s had an older brother who’s been through it, but it’s just about reassuring him that everyone does this, everyone has walked into the wrong classroom.”
Pennock said what works for her family, may not work for others, but teachers and the author of parenting book do have some suggestions.
Elementary school age
The first few days are often a lot for younger kids to handle, so parents should get kids back into a routine before school starts and when schools in session remind them they are loved, said Tanya Winney, a Groton Elementary School teacher.
“When they first come in they’re excited, but they’re nervous,” she said. That is why she gives them about a half-hour to settle in. However, parents can help.
Some of her tips include:
• Start a bedtime routine about a week before school starts.
“It generally helps, although it’s still never easy to get up on that first day,” she said.
• Try writing notes in lunch boxes, on pencils or the like.
A parent she knew wrote little notes like “I love you” and “Hang in there” on her daughter’s pencils, so she would see them as she was using the pencil.
“That really helped the transition from being with her mom all day to being in school all day and after the first few days she really was excited to be there got to know me,” Winney said.
• Have them eat a good healthy breakfast.
“What I used to eat as a kid is a bowl of cereal or oatmeal and piece of fruit, with a glass of milk or orange juice,” she said. Foods like waffles and pastries only make kids more energetic and don’t help them concentrate.
• Get kids’ brains engaged again with reading and math practice.
“It gets their mindset back into learning,” she said.
• Meet the teacher.
Middle school age
“This is a perfect opportunity to trust your kids with some responsibility,” said Marcia Burrell, a curriculum and instruction professor at SUNY Oswego who once taught middle and high school students.
Have them wake themselves up in the morning or prepare their own breakfast and lunch, Burrell said. It teaches them about “knowing what they need to do without being reminded.”
As a high school teacher, Burrell said she often knew of parents who would ask their child if their homework or other task was done and remind them to do it. However, children need to learn to set goals and expectations.
“Kids will give up on things and say ‘oh they (the parents) will remind me, anyway, I don’t need to do it,’” she said.
High school age
Burrell said lot of kids entering 9th grade or even going into 10th grade will shut down, and not be as open with their parents.
“There’s a fear of not wanting parents or peers to know what’s going on,” she said. “Kids have to feel comfortable about saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to certain things.”
It might be a good idea for parents to call teachers or sit down with them to see how their kids are doing.
“Most teachers want to hear from parents,” she said. “They really do understand it’s a partnership.”
But it’s also a time where parents need to sit down with their child and have a conversation about trust.
“This is time for parents to ask ‘What do you love to do?’ and ‘What do you want to do?’” she said.
Parents should think about what they’re kids are being taught in school and how it can be expanded on at home so kids are comfortable and know they have people to talk to or places to go for help.
She said high school is also a trial period where kids should explore who they are, what they want to do, what responsibilities they have and how to handle it all — before they get to college.
“They are not adults, but they are given certain responsibilities,” she said. “You want to give them room to grow and sometimes that room to grow requires making some mistakes.”
Also for the older kids
One primary concern for older kids is peer acceptance, said Mary Muscari, a pediatric nurse, nursing professor at Binghamton University and author of “Let Kids be Kids: Rescuing Childhood.”
“Once puberty strikes, it becomes critical as it becomes important to their sense of self,” she said. “This can be a bigger issue for high schoolers who have multiple classes — and thus different peer exposure — throughout the day.”
She said it’s important for kids in high school to think about what they want in a friendship.
“Today’s teen may prefer a best friend group over a single best friend, but it also helps to know that not everyone will be BFFs, and they don’t need to be,” she said.
However, Muscari said some of the same things you did when your child was younger still come into play, including making sure they get a good night’s rest, which can be difficult once puberty hits.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, changes in melatonin — sometimes known as the sleep hormone — can throw off adolescents’ sleep cycle, causing them to stay up later, but also wake up later.
“To help your child get more ZZZs, make sure they avoid bright light at night, including cellphones, and brighten the morning. Wake-up with plenty of sunlight,” she said.
Children will also need to learn time-management skills, she said, which will become essential with multiple class schedules and more homework.
“Middle schoolers will need more assistance, but high schoolers are not that future-oriented either, so you may need to help create or find a calendar for them to initiate their plan,” she said.
But remember to keep it fun, leaving time in the kids’ day for other activities outside of school, family and friend time and “me time.”
And don’t forget to let them decorate it with their own style, she added.
How much is too much?
Muscari said most kids go back to school and everything is OK. However, there can be times where parents might be doing too much.
“Anxiety can be contagious,” she said. “Keep your worries to yourself. Instead, talk to your partner or good friend about your own worries — before you approach your children.”
An anxious parent could not only do too much for their kids, but could manufacture problems, too.
Avoid saying “everything will be fine,” she said, because that denotes that there could be a problem, but it doesn’t provide any help. Rather, she said parents should find out what their child’s needs are and then find a solution.
Above all, she said, let children fight their own battles.
“One of the best things you can give your child is the ability to cope with life’s challenges,” she said. “That’s a priceless gift that lasts a lifetime.”