Photos by Erica Carulli
Photos by Erica Carulli

Back-to-school jitters take on a whole new meaning this year for families. Here are three tips from a Michigan mom who navigates stressful situations everyday.

MICHIGAN — The end of the summer was always one of my favorite times as a kid. 

I loved going shopping for school supplies, new school outfits and getting ready for the first day of a new school year. As a mom of three school-aged kids, I get to do those same things with them, well, I used to get to do them. 

This year is very, very different. 

Stress levels are extremely high across the board, including our kids. They miss their friends and teachers and the structure of going to an actual building for learning (even though they might not admit that). Schools are offering virtual learning, which is what is recommended to keep everyone safe and healthy. 

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But how can we, as parents, ensure our kids are successful from day one? 

Three things have helped many of the clients I work with (and my own family) stay on track; preparation, organization and reward.

Preparation

Virtual doesn’t mean unprepared. 

We can help our children prepare for the first day of school as if they were still going back to in-person. Gather the necessary materials, supplies and maybe even get them a great first day of school outfit. 

This time is different, but change is okay, and it can be exciting to try something new. Prepare a dedicated workspace for your child(ren). 

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Kitchen tables work great, albeit not interior design worthy, a centrally located place in your home where you can keep track of everyone. Your child will know where they can work, where their materials are, and not have to scramble before class, hence reducing stress. 

Also, isn’t it frustrating when you try to grab the scissors from the place in the drawer where the scissors live and they’ve grown legs and walked away and when you ask who took them, someone named, “not me” apparently did? Sound familiar? Yes. We’ve all been there. It’s annoying and time consuming and takes energy and attention away from the task at hand. 

The same concept applies to children. Your child will worry less about where the scissors are and more about following the instruction being presented in class, if the scissors are where they’re supposed to be. 

That brings me to my second point, organization. 

Organization

We don’t need to “Marie Kondo” the entire house, we just need organizational tools in place to help reduce our child’s first day of school stress. Having a pencil box, or a few, may be an easy, and relatively cheap, way of organizing school supplies. Crayons, pencils, markers, miscellaneous, all have their “homes.” 

Of course, this intertwines nicely with preparation, we’ve located the scissors and they are in the appropriate pencil box “home” where they belong. 

My kids, for a personal example, would spend more time sifting through a huge box of art supplies and then get distracted by the monstrosity that is said art supplies box, therefore, losing track of what they are looking for in the first place. “Homes” are a cute way of keepings things neat and tidy, also giving your child(ren) some responsibility over their workspace.

Responsibility (and autonomy) are exactly why I included my third point, reward. 

Reward

Children are small humans who deserve to be rewarded for the hard work they are doing both in the virtual classroom and at home. By giving them responsibility for keeping their workspace tidy or keeping track of their supplies, for example, can be a tall order for some kids. 

We can help encourage their autonomy and also show we recognize their hard work.  Grade level dependent, reward systems are used widely in classrooms. While we are not sending our child(ren) to a physical space, we can still utilize the same systems in our homes. 

We can effectively mediate their behavior simply by utilizing the reward system they are used to following. (If you’re unsure, contact your child’s teacher, I’m sure they’d be happy to share.) 

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If your school doesn’t utilize a reward system, you can create your own. 

Focus on the positive behaviors while addressing but not punishing the negative ones. For example, my kids will not sit still (sometimes deemed a negative behavior). Instead of being punitive, I allow them to take their work to other parts of the house, maybe they need a change of scenery, or a brain break, or a snack (addressing, not punishing).

Once they’re done with the assignment they are working on, they may get time to read or relax (reward). I acknowledge they’ve worked hard and had to be creative to stay focused (focus on the positive). 

Our children are looking to us to help them navigate these uncertain times. We are here to guide them. We would all love for our kids to feel less stress, and more happiness, especially now. 

Let’s all take a collective deep breath, because here goes nothin’.