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When Back-to-School Jitters Mean Something More

Morgan Kelly
July 19, 2017

Bumpsmitten Blogger and mom shares her tips as part of the Care.com Interview Series



Elizabeth Demers, founder of Bumpsmitten.com, a blog of beautiful baby shower inspiration, is a busy wife, graphic designer, blogger, DIY enthusiast and mother to Xander (4) and Chloe (2). She lives in Park City, Utah.

Starting school can make any child or parent anxious. Add a 4-year-old to the mix, and you've got a stressful back to school season.

Last year, Elizabeth Demers found herself dealing with not only her son's normal back-to-school jitters, but also her anxiety about him being teased for delayed speech. Demers shared with Care.com how she's learned to fight off back-to-school stress one step at a time.

5 Tips from Elizabeth Demers for Fighting Back-to-School Anxiety:

  1. 1. Hype it up. Ending first-day jitters is all about turning the nervousness into excitement, and hyping up the big day. "We make it a very exciting day with special breakfast, special outfit and especially, a special new backpack!"

    2. Know your child's anxiety triggers. Getting ready for school is the worst time for Demers' son, Xander. "There's crying, temper tantrums, and getting dressed is difficult," she says. Knowing where the problems start is the key; you can avoid morning roadblocks with preparation. Now, they take time as a family to lay out clothes and pack backpacks the night before.

    3. Give the teachers a break. Like a lot of kids, morning drop-off is a struggle for Demers, but she says that staying is the worst thing you can do. She advises to turn your back and go. "Lingering makes parents feel connected but it usually makes it worse, and I know the teachers have an easier time when the parents are not hovering."

    4. If your kids act out, find out why. Demers received a phone call from the school telling her that Xander was hitting. "He couldn't communicate as well as other kids because of his hearing so he would turn to hitting," she says. Instead of punishing him, Demers got to the root of the problem by getting his hearing tested. He has since received tubes in his ears and speech therapy, which has helped him express himself better by using his words.

    5. Don't be afraid to make a change: Trying to make a school work for your child is important, but don't force it. "He wasn't excelling in that environment. He wasn't getting the one-on-one attention that he needed," she says. "Once they told me that he was hitting, we knew it wasn't good and we started looking into other places."  Demers found a much smaller preschool where Xander doesn't get lost in the crowd.

Get more of Demers' tips for making the back-to-school transition less painful below. You can also Find BumpSmitten on Twitter.

What was it like sending your child to preschool for the first time?

It's awesome. I love school. He's got a language delay, so we got tested into the public preschool here and it's free. He's got speech therapy and occupational therapy. So, it's actually been a blessing for us because he's progressed so much with this school.

How do you and your family prepare for the school day?

We usually do everything the night before. Xander gets to pick out his outfit so we have it all ready to go including his shoes, socks and underwear, everything. We try to make it as easy as possible. He wakes up at 7 o'clock so we don't really have to worry about waking up and rushing to school. There's usually plenty of time.

Does Xander have anxiety about the first day of school?

Definitely. He doesn't want to leave home. He doesn't want to leave my side. Xander is usually happy the first day of school especially since we make it a very exciting day with special breakfast, special outfit and especially, a special new backpack! It's the second day that's hard! The newness of school is over and he doesn't want to leave me. He's very much a momma's boy!  

Do you do anything over the summer to help the transition?

He's excited right now because we've kind of prepped it as if he's going to the big boy preschool. We are also talking more about his friends that are going to be in preschool and luckily we do get to see them occasionally throughout the neighborhood so just bringing up, "Aren't you excited to go back to school to play with so and so?" That usually works!

How do you cope with his back-to-school worries?

I try to hype up school and all the great things about it, such as the friends and fun playground. I also tell him that the teachers would be very upset if he wasn't there. At the end, I take him to school, drop him off and try not to stay too long. The teachers tell me that five seconds after I go, he's happy and playing and it's not a problem. So, you just have to do it.

Have you encountered any bullying in school? If so, how did you cope with it?

Because of [his speech delay] there were a couple of kids, one in particular, who would tease him in such a way that made the communication issues worse, and hence it caused a bit of a downward spiral.

It was frustrating for us to see him having trouble, but on the other hand, we realize that it's not fair to him for us to step in ourselves every time something unpleasant happens. We talked with the school staff to make sure they were aware of the issue and discussed ways that they might deal with it specific to Xander's personality. We felt like it was better to work with Xander on coping mechanisms while working with the school on how to solve the issue.

Was his speech delay a deciding factor for where you put him in school?

It was also the behavior that resulted from his hearing issues. He couldn't hear well or communicate at the same level as his peers so he would express himself by hitting or screaming. So, now that he's communicating so much better, he uses his words instead of reverting back to what he knew best, which is to get attention by hitting. The school he was originally in was telling us about it but they really weren't fixing the problem.  

At what point did you decide that the other school wasn't working out?

He wasn't excelling in it. He wasn't getting the one-on-one attention that he needed. It was more of a "the biggest kid's going to win" kind of thing. So, we got him out of there. Preschool is different for each kid and so, we needed a little smaller school that is definitely more structured and that's what we've found. Once they told me that he was hitting, we knew it wasn't good and we started looking into other places.

What tips do you have for first-time parents who may be anxious about sending their first child to school?

I would say that it's the best for the kid and the mom. You just kind of have to go with your instinct and just do it and know that it's the best thing. Always be prepared to switch the kids, too. It might not be the best school, so definitely know that you're not stuck in the school that you're in. Xander's first year was hard for me, though, because we were going through testings and doctors' appointments and switching schools, so that's definitely hard. But, just know that you're trying to do the best for you kids. It will make your kids, you and your life happier.

For more tips, read the rest of our Care.com Interview Series: Back-to-School.

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