Now that we are a few weeks into the start of school, how’s it going? If you answered, eh, well… then here are some thoughts and tips on how to make things a little smoother during this big transition from the pool and the beach to the classroom and the cafeteria.
Expect this to be a little messy. Transitions like the start of school are a big deal and assuming it will be hectic will help. Allowing for some chaos, especially in the first two weeks, will mean that little issues can be the plan and not the problem. Forgetting a book, missing an assignment, and even being late to school is frustrating, but we need to be careful not to blow those issues out of proportion. Hold off on those doubts about college readiness if your 6th grader gets in the car without shoes. This is messy, remember?
Read school communications right away. Whether they arrive via email, the school portal, a crumpled flyer in a backpack, or old-fashioned mail. While the thought of saving an email for later is tempting, if the school thinks it’s important enough to send out, then it’s definitely best to read it. This applies to handbooks, announcements, policy updates, and carpool reminders. This may be your child’s first year in 3rd, 8th, or 10th grade, but the school knows the routine and is sharing timely information that will help you feel prepared for what’s coming and what it will mean for your family and student.
Speaking of school portals: Figure out the technology stuff. Note login information for you and your student, and take pictures on your phones of passwords, schedules, and locker combinations. Depending on your student’s comfort level, navigate the site together — and if you’re the one who needs a little extra help, ask your student for a tutorial. That will give you a chance to reassure your student with a “Wow, you really are good with this!”
Briefly check in each day about the transition back to school. If your student isn’t feeling too chatty (does anyone else have a teenager?), consider asking them to rate the day on a scale of 1 to 10, and track how that changes over time. We want our kids to have a good day every day, but if it’s a tough day, there could be so many reasons: social, emotional, academic, or even physical. Was it tough to open the locker? Did she get lost twice on the way to science? Did his friends make plans without him? Is everyone too tired to think straight? Is the homework load more than expected? Homework concerns could lead your child to rate the day as a 2 or 3 (or -2 if your child tends toward the dramatic), but it may be that your student’s focus is on academics, and that could actually be a sign that the rest of what has been hard and messy is smoothing out — which is a good sign!
Identify your resources. Who is your student’s first point of contact? And yours? Whether it’s the advisor or homeroom teacher, front office staff, or each teacher, you and your student should know how to get in touch and consider when it’s best to do so. If you have a general question, keep in mind that the school may open and start taking calls at 8 a.m., but if you call an hour later staff may have a little more time to support you.
Connect with other parents, even if you don’t know them well. Create community through meet-your-teacher events, games, the carpool line, and even through a group text about a homework assignment. Trust in the fact that everyone can benefit from connection, even when we are sharing what challenges us.
Take care of each other as a family. The back-to-school routine benefits from being addressed holistically. Sleep well, eat well, have some fun, and identify ways to offer structure and stability at home. That way if school feels overwhelming, home feels like a safe place to recover and recharge. Remember that this time will fly and raising children is a precious privilege. Invest in being present with your kids. They will figure this out soon enough, and by then, you will, too.
About the Author
Amy Burrows Perkins, LMHC is Director of Student Services at Episcopal School of Jacksonville, where she manages the counseling and academic support team and efforts that respond to the needs of 950 6th-12th grade students. Prior to Episcopal, she was the Dean of Student Success at Florida State College at Jacksonville.
Portions of this interview also appeared in Jacksonville Magazine’s September 2023 issue.