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Back-to-School Season: Crank the Anxiety or Let It All Go

A dad on how to get ready for September without losing your mind

Published on: August 12, 2022

Little boy is smiling at the camera as he is being fireman carried by his father through the woodlands.

Ahhh, summer as a parent. A time for camps and vacations. A time to take your foot off the gas. A time for more yes and less no. But, like some famous buzzkill once said, “All good things must come to an end.” Which means it’s nearly time to go back to school. How can we parents best prepare for what is admittedly one of the less pleasant times of the year, especially from a kid’s point of view?  

I did some deep digging (and by that, I mean Googling and comparing notes with other parents) and distilled a few quick tips from the pros to get you started. Then I threw in my two cents because it’s important to remember that much of parenting is simply winging it.

Please keep in mind that these are general tips. If you’re starting off at a new school — and especially if you’re starting kindergarten — you might put in some extra time preparing your child for a big transition.  

But if you’re an (old) experienced hand like me, read on for a quick refresher.  

Personal grooming persuasion

Some experts recommend starting the new school year off on a positive note with a new haircut. They also mention establishing a regular schedule for hygiene — baths, tooth-brushing, etc. So, you could do that.  

Oooor ... I’ve got a teen, a pre-teen and a little one who’s quite headstrong. They’ve pretty much been in charge of their haircuts for years. And we’re reliably a baths-before-bed family. If they do start to stink I just point it out. None of them want to smell bad around their peers.

Get back, to the old backpack

It’s been suggested that you should get your new clothes and school supplies at least a week in advance to avoid being unprepared. Some parents also follow the “new year, new backpack” rule.

When I was young, this was probably a good tip. However, with online ordering and curbside pickup at all the big box stores, this is something that can be accomplished on relatively short notice these days. If you want that stuff ready to go on day one, go right ahead.

But I’ve got some teachers in my extended family, and I’ll let you in on a secret: Most teachers aren’t ready to go on day one either. So, we’re just going to dig out last year’s backpack from the bottom of the closet and — miracle of miracles — there are some slightly used notebooks and pencils in it, all ready to go. Along with one or two crumpled notes from last year’s teacher that couldn’t have been that important...

Look after yourself

This is actually a helpful reminder, but if your school system is anything like ours, you’ve already been submitting medical forms on a fairly regular basis. In all seriousness, make sure you’re taking care of yourself as well. We’ve all let things slide the last couple of years because of you-know-what, so get up-to-date with your own healthcare appointments too.  

On the topic of medicine: You’ve possibly got some nice white wines or summer ales you’ve been enjoying recently. But cooler weather is just around the corner, so be sure to get some red wine, maybe some Kahlua or Bailey’s to splash into your own mug of grown-up cocoa for when you make a batch for the kids.

Don't suck all the enjoyment out of summer

I’ve read quite a few recommendations that you should settle into your regular school routine days or even weeks beforehand, to help take some of the bite out of first-day stress. Start getting the kids to bed earlier, get into a regular breakfast and lunch routine, etc.

That said, we’ve all been living in an overstressed world the last two years. Combine that with the fact that they’re only kids once. My oldest is only a couple of years away from a summer job to help pay for the college where he’ll be looking to start a (likely-to-change- several-times) career path. And before you know it, he’s an adult with kids of his own and writing a somewhat tongue-in-cheek parenting article about back-to-school.  

When I broached the topic of going to bed earlier in the run-up to school, my kids responded with, “Can’t we just be tired for the first few days?” That makes a lot of sense to me, although I’m sure in that moment I’ll regret the Herculean effort it’s going to take to get them off to school that first day. But for now, we’re going to keep going out after dinner for ice cream with fireflies and staying up late watching movies. And let summer be summer.  

Just remember, if any of my “tips” blow up in your face, you bought that red wine, right?   

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