Tips for Battling Back-to-School Nerves

Battling back-to-school nerves? Try these kid-centered hacks for helping your littles make this first day of school the best one yet.

Courtesy Erin J. Bernard

By Erin J. Bernard and Denise Castañon

Be Wonder-Full

Did all your kid’s besties end up in a different class? Do they have the school’s grumpiest teacher? No welcome-back message from the principal? Don’t panic!


Part of sending kids back to school is trusting that the teacher and administrators can handle whatever emotions and situations arise as everyone settles in, says Portland-based therapist and parent coach Tracey Biebel. And your job as a parent is to model calm curiosity about all those unknowns.

Resist the urge to fret alongside your kids, bright-side worries, or jump in to “fix” things, Biebel advises. “One of the biggest gifts we give our kids is the ability to tolerate uncomfortable emotions, because life has uncomfortable emotions,” she says.

Biebel recommends sitting down together and wondering aloud about what’s ahead, validating all emotions from excitement to fear and reminding kids of past challenges overcome. This exercise gets children comfortable with not-knowing — an essential life skill. -EJB

Plan a Summer Send-off

As summer wanes, make a family list of lingering must-dos or have one last adventure: Hit that lake you’ve been meaning to visit, escape to the coast for a night, or plan a backyard campout. A calendar countdown can also help kids prepare mentally and practically in summer’s final weeks, but don’t rush it, recommends Biebel. Focus instead on enjoying those last hazy days; they’re going to go fast. -EJB

Hand off A Responsibility or Two

Nurture a growth mindset by keeping kids in what Biebel dubs the Zone of Struggle. If you think of your kid’s development as a traffic light, with red indicating things they can’t do, yellow things they can do with help and green things they’ve mastered, your kid’s responsibilities should regularly place them between green and yellow, she says. A rising fourth-grader might be ready to pack their own lunch (with some nutritional guidance), while a kindergartener can begin dressing independently. The goal: to tackle increasingly complex tasks in a way that feels emboldening — not overwhelming. -EJB


Own Your Anxiety

September can stir up parental stress, too! It’s normal to worry as a new school year looms and even to harbor a bit of grief. But we must remember our kids are watching us, and it’s easy to pass on our anxieties and hang-ups, warns Biebel. “If they look at us and what’s reflected back is fear, they’re gonna be scared,” she says. “They look to us for: ‘Is this going to be ok? Is this going to be safe?’” 

If the anxiety or grief feels overwhelming, Biebel recommends seeking a therapist to help you work through it so you can parent from a place of peace and clarity. -EJB

Establish a Goodbye Ritual

A small ritual offers kids of all ages comfort and camaraderie as well as a concrete way to bid farewell each morning. For little ones, it might be a quick personalized goodbye song sung in the drop-off line, followed by a brief hug. For older kids, try a secret handshake at the front door of your home before they head out into the world. Keep it simple, fun and fast, suggests Biebel, and if your kid dashes off on that first day without hugging you goodbye, let them go and call it a win! 

Your kid’s got this. And you’ve got it, too! We promise. -EJB

Celebrate the Start

You’ve prepped your kid to have a great start to school, but take it to the next level by throwing in a surprise treat after the first day or first week of school. Consider hitting a destination park for a post-school play date: The Imagination Station in Gresham, Harper’s Playground in North Portland or the brand-new, inclusive playground at Gabriel Park in Southwest Portland are great choices. Or get a little sugar rush at an extra-special treat shop. Boba is just the beginning at Yoonique Tea (5348 SE Foster Rd.); other drink specialties include the Oreo Cloud foam tea and fresh fruit tea frappuccinos. Or try cannolis and other Italian baked goods at Sebastiano’s in Montavilla (411 SE 81st Ave.). Oyatsupan Bakers (16025 SW Regatta Ln.) in Beaverton specializes in delicious Japanese pastries; kids will love the chocolate coronet with googly eyes! And you can’t beat ice cream! A scoop of Circus Friends at Woodstock’s Cloud City Ice Cream (4525 SE Woodstock Blvd.) or Blondie vs. Brownie at Fifty Licks (several locations) is a tasty way to ring in the new school year.  — DC

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