7 Things Kids Are Thinking at Back-to-School Time

What your child may be anxious or excited about when going back to school

son sad about going back to school
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Back-to-school time can be an intense time for even the most organized and prepared families. There's always a last-minute dash to get school supplies your child just found out he needs. Or a forgotten form that your child forgot to have you sign the night before or homework that he forgot to do or didn't remember to put in his backpack.

In the rush of getting back into the fast-paced flow of morning rushes, homework, and going to and from after-school activities, it can be easy for parents to focus on what needs to get done and forget what going back to school can be like from their child's perspective (and why it's important to give kids a little extra understanding and patience in the first weeks back to school).

Here are a few things your child may be thinking at this busy and hectic time of the year.

1. I'm anxious about making friends at school.
If your child is going to a new school, he's likely to be anxious about making new friends. Even if he's going back to the same school, he'll probably be nervous about how he'll fit in in the new classroom, and whether or not his new classmates will like him. We all experience this--even grownups may feel a bit unsure about themselves or shy at a party where they don't know anyone--and it's especially difficult for young children who are entering the unknown world of a new classroom.

You can help your child feel more confident by assuring him that everyone is probably feeling like he is, and that he will soon be having fun learning and playing with his classmates. Talk to him about showing classmates and his teacher good manners and being respectful, and talk about what negative interactions, such as bullying--even in kindergarten or first grade--will look like.

Ask him to think about times when he didn't know anyone--at a party or in a play group or preschool--and how he made friends then. Remind him to be nice and kind, and to smile, which is one of the best ways for people to connect positively.

2. What if I don't like my teacher? What if she doesn't like me?
It's common for a child to be worried that her teacher will not like her or that she'll be mean to her.

She may have had a negative experience with another teacher or adult, or may be anxious about pleasing someone she doesn't know.

Reassure your child that her teacher will likely be very nice and friendly, but ask her to come to you with any concerns or problems and let her know that you'll be there to listen and help her if there's any problem. And ask her to think about what it may be like for her teacher to meet new students. She may be worried that the kids won't like her, or that she won't do a good job. Having her think about things from someone else's perspective is a great way to build empathy, and help her consider ways to help others.

3. I'm worried about homework and tests and getting good grades.
What if my homework is too hard? What if I don't do well in school or on tests? Increasingly, students are expected to do well on state standard tests. And studies have shown that kids are getting too much homework, especially in the younger grades.

Let your child know that you'll be there to listen and help in any way you can if anything feels too difficult or overwhelming.

Reassure him that while doing the work and learning how to keep track of assignments is an important skill for him to learn, you'll always be there to help him figure out ways to overcome any problem he has. And remind him that you're always very proud of him for trying his best.

4. I'm excited about being a big kid and going to the next grade.
As nervous as kids may be about staring school in a new classroom or school, going into a new grade, like having another birthday, is a big deal for them. It's a sign that they're another year older and a little more grown-up, and they'll feel proud of themselves and excited. And they'll look around at younger kids and feel more mature and confident.

5. I miss summer and having time to relax and not have to be on a schedule.
If your child had fun at summer camp or met friends while on summer break, she'll be sad about not seeing them anymore. If she mastered an activity during the summer--like riding a two-wheeler or learning how to swim--she'll be bummed about not having time to do those things as much as she did during the summer. Even if your child had a laid-back summer that wasn't filled with fun activities, the fact is that it's hard to say goodbye to those leisurely days and switch to days filled with expectations and schedules.

6. I miss having more time with mom and dad.
Your child will probably be sad about having to leave the house. He may have had extra time with mom and dad and siblings at home during summer vacation, and will be sad about having less time with his family. He'll miss being on vacation with his parents and seeing friends and family in a relaxed, fun setting. And if you are more tense and stressed at back-to-school time, he'll pick up on that as well.

Try to be extra understanding and patient and relaxed--it's one of the most important things you can do for your child at the start of school. And be sure to build in some extra time to relax and do fun family activities on weekends and family dinners in the evenings so that your child can continue to enjoy some of that wonderful downtime he was able to have with you in the summer.

7. It’s hard to remember everything.
Homework, soccer cleats, gym clothes—there is an endless list of things kids need to remember to pack and organize during the school year. Expect that things will occasionally be forgotten, and that your child may need a bit of extra time to get into the rhythm of school and new routines. After all, if you took on a new job, wouldn't you need a little time to settle in get familiar with things before you were at your best peak performance?

When you consider how challenging things may be for your child at this time of the year, and how much your extra love and hugs can make a big difference, you'll know that patience, not expectations, are what counts for school-age kids at the start of back-to-school time.

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