My social media is flooded with first-day-of-school pics of my friends’ kids. They’re rocking their brand new backpacks and grinning for the camera. But we know the reality. Many kids—and their parents—face major back-to-school anxiety. And rightfully so.
This time of the year is no joke for many of us. Whether your child has special needs, it’s their first day of school (ever!), or you’re sending your child off to a monumental grade like kindergarten or their senior year of high school, the anxiety is legit.
For years, parents have read their young kids The Kissing Hand or The Night Before Kindergarten, encouraging their children to enjoy school and remember their parents are always here for them. But like me, you may have wondered, is this enough? Will our kids feel safe? Excited? Are they primed to learn and make friends?
Really, what we want to know is, are they going to be OK without us right there with them?
Nicole Black, author of the blog Coffee and Carpool, mom of three, and former elementary teacher shared a genius tip on social media that has parents cheering. It’s simple. And it’s sheer brilliance.
Nicole has three children ranging from a tween to a second grader. She shared with Scary Mommy that her post stemmed from the back-to-school stress which can “conjure up conflicting emotions: excitement, worry, relief, anxiety, happiness, and sadness.” She admitted she has worried about her kids making friends, who their teacher will be, will they know where the cafeteria is, and how the summer-to-school transition will go.
She ultimately wanted a tangible way to help her children be ready to emotionally be ready to say goodbye to their parents for the day. And thankfully, she chose to share her tip with others.
I have four kids, all of whom will be attending school this year. As soon as I saw Nicole’s post, I immediately dug out extra prints of our family photo Christmas card from last year. I tucked a copy into each of my oldest girls’ school supplies to be used as a bookmark. Then for my younger two, a first grader and preschooler, I copied Nicole’s suggestion. I used clear packing tape to stick a family photo to the inside of their pencil boxes.
In Nicole’s post, she followed up with more suggestions. If your child doesn’t have a pencil box, place the family photo inside a folder or lunch box. There are endless possibilities.
Nicole told Scary Mommy that from her perspective a former elementary educator, “It’s comforting for students to open up their supply box and see a friendly and loving face staring back at them every time they need a crayon or a pencil or scissors.”
She also shared that the school days can be very long, especially for younger students at the beginning of the year. She elaborated, “A family photo is like a socially acceptable security blanket…a little piece of something familiar when they’re feeling unsure or anxious or lonely.”
The simple tip can help our kids remember that we are always with them in spirit, even when we aren’t physically next to them. We don’t know what kind of day they’re having when we’re apart during the school hours, but we can all be reassured that a photo can remind our kids that we are cheering for them.
The reality is, the first month our kids go back to school is rocky. Yes, we’re all excited, but the change in routine can be nothing short of hellacious. Until we get into our groove, my kids go from wanting to be as close to me as possible every evening to yelling and slamming their doors. Meanwhile, I keep the moscato on-hand for the minute they fall asleep.
For those parents who are gearing up for back-to-school like we are, Nicole offers us two more brilliant and simple suggestions.
First, consider the magic of the back-to-school fairy. Why should the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa get all the glory? Nicole takes a paper bag, writes a loving message on it from a fairy, and then fills the bag with practical or fun things.
Practical items include school supplies such as both practical and novelty scented markers, while fun items might include slime or underwear. And of course, Nicole always includes a book in the bag. The kids open their bag of surprises on the morning of the first day of school. Talk about a great start to the school year!
Her other suggestion is for parents and kids to create a back-to-school paper chain countdown calendar. This helps children understand exactly when school is starting. It can build anticipation in a fun way. I love this activity, because it’s hands-on and helps a child grasp the answer to their burning question. How many days until school starts?
All of Nicole’s suggestions can be fairly inexpensive or free, yet they create the magic kids need for those first days back to the grind. Summers can be fun, but sometimes it’s just too much for kids — and parents — who thrive on consistency and routine.
With a few creative hacks, parents can help their children gear up for a fabulous school year, full of learning and friend-making. And at minimum, we can feel a sense of relief knowing that our kids will see our smiling faces throughout the day.
A picture really is worth a thousand words.