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Win the Back-to-School Battle

Melissa Roja Lawlor
Aug. 15, 2011

Rookie Mom blogger Heather Flett shares her story from the front lines as part of the Care.com Interview Series

Heather Flett is one of the brains behind Rookie Moms, a blog dedicated to helping new moms navigate life with a newborn with creativity and style, and co-author of The Rookie Mom's Handbook.

When Heather Flett's oldest son Holden, now 6, went off to kindergarten, it was, in the Rookie Mom blogger's words, "high drama." Mom to Holden, 6, and Milo, 4, and another on the way, Flett shared some great tips with us about how to win the back-to-school battle.

Rookie Mom Heather Flett's Top 5 Tips for Managing Back-to-School Anxiety:

1. Is there a pattern? Talk about it. Try to get to the root of the anxiety by talking it out. "My 6-year-old and I just had a discussion about how much he dreads change. We reviewed past experiences and uncovered a theme of him not wanting to try the new activity, but finding that he really liked it after all," notes Flett.

2. Stick to a routine. "At the preschool, that means walking around the play yard and finishing up at the gate with a hug, a kiss, and a push out the door," Flett says. "At the elementary school, that means waiting until we see the whites of the teacher's eyes before I leave the yard." Whatever your chosen routine, give yourself a few minutes to settle your child with a farewell ritual at drop-off. This simple act can go a long way in terms of helping your child adjust to the transition.

3. Stay positive. This goes for you as well as your child, because children often look for cues from their parents in new situations. "Try to remember that your child will be anxious about completely different things, so don't project your worries on top of everything," Flett advises. "Try to keep it positive while listening to (and validating) their concerns."

4. Do as much as you can the night before. Flett tries to get lunches packed and outfits picked out the night before, to take a lot of the stress off the morning routine. "We have a pretty tight timeline of when things need to happen so we're not running late," she says. "If there's any slack, the kids can take it as free time or play time."

5. Don't overload. Flett noted that one of her biggest mistakes in managing her child's school anxiety was overwhelming her child with too much information. Looking back, she says, "It's best to answer the questions they're asking and meet them where they are rather than over-explaining."

Get more tips on transitioning back to school in the full interview below. You can also find Heather and Rookie Moms on Twitter.

What was it like sending your oldest child to school for the first time? Would you mind sharing how you coped with that?

When my oldest went off to kindergarten, it was high drama. He doesn't like transitions and this was no exception. He stomped and screamed about it for a couple days before loving it.

Do your children have anxiety about going back to school this year? What are they worried most about and how do they express it?

His kindergarten teacher told him that the transition to first grade was "much easier" than the one to kindergarten; so far, he believes it. I think he will really enjoy getting back into familiar routines.

How do you cope with your child's back-to-school worries? Could you share some of your triumphs and/or blunders with us?


A well-timed question. My 6-year old and I just had a discussion about how much he dreads change. We reviewed past experiences and uncovered a theme of him not wanting to try the new activity, but finding that he really liked it after all. This seemed to help prepare him for the next camp he is about to start. But honestly, on the morning drive there, I'm sure he'll make a fuss all over again.

How do you and your kids adjust from the fun of summer to the structure of school? Can you share any tips on how you get them (and yourself) prepared for the school year?

Because I'm working, my kids are in preschool or camp all summer long. We have the same morning routine in order to get them out the door on time; it's just slightly more forgiving, because late arrival to camp carries no penalty. For my family, the big difference this year will be homework. I have no idea how we'll squeeze that into our already tight routine. This will be our first year doing it.

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

We pack lunchboxes the night before. If we're on our game, we'll choose outfits too. We have a pretty tight timeline of when things need to happen so we're not running late. If there's any slack, the kids can take it as "free time" or "play time."

What does a typical school day morning at your house look like?

Parents wake at 6:20; kids are woken at 6:45 and get dressed; breakfast at 7:00; brush teeth and do any other jobs at 7:20; shoes on and leave the house at 7:40. I drop my preschooler off first, then my husband at his bus stop, finally my grade schooler at 8:05. Wonder what we'll do with a baby.

Morning drop-offs are rough for kids and parents. If you've experienced this, can you share any tips, including mistakes you've seen or made, for parents dropping off a sad kid?

Sometimes, they're rough and sometimes they're smooth for us too. The kids seem to like a predictable routine. At the preschool, that means walking around the play yard and finishing up at the gate with a hug, a kiss, and a push out the door. At the elementary school, that means waiting until we see the whites of the teacher's eyes before I leave the yard.

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

Try to remember that your child will be anxious about completely different things, so don't project your worries on top of everything, try to keep it positive while listening to (and validating) their concerns.

What's the one mistake you've made when it comes to fighting back-to-school anxiety that no parent should repeat?

I say too much. It's best to answer the questions they're asking and meet them where they are rather than over-explaining.

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

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