How to Ace Back-to-School for First Timers

Sending your child to school for the first time can bring some serious nerves. It’s hard to watch our kids navigate nervousness and watch them go off on their own. But, as a parent who has been there, I want to take some of the stress out of it. This is a wonderful milestone for your family, and like most things parenting-related, you’ll probably realize later on that you worried for no reason.

There are so many ways to prepare yourself and your child for the big day so that you can go into school feeling confident(ish). Here are some of my favorite tips for nervous first-time school parents:

  1. Radiate confidence, even if you’re secretly terrified.

    This is my most important tip, so if you walk away with just one, let it be this one! Even if you’re stressed, you have to feign confidence and enthusiasm as much as possible, just like you might have with sleep training. Kids can sense doubt and fear, so do your best to act casual, positive, and excited! Talk it up and tell your child how much fun it will be. Tell your child you know they’re going to be great. They’ve got this—and you do, too!

  2. Get back on schedule with sleep.

    The last thing you want to do is jump from that 9 pm summer bedtime to an early 7:30 pm bedtime. Try to start pushing up bedtime incrementally about 1-2 weeks ahead of time if you can. Also, try waking your child up a little earlier each morning if they’ve been sleeping in.

  3. Visit the school.

    If your school allows tours, try to arrange one and take your child along. If you can meet the teacher(s), even better! But don’t make this another thing to stress about if it’s not school policy. Worst case scenario, just visit the outside!

  4. Establish the routine ahead of time.

    Decide how you want the morning to go. For example: breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed (no stains this way!), shoes, and out the door when the oven clock says 7:45. Other things you might want to add are hairstyling and giving your child time to pack his or her own backpack or lunch.

  5. Use a visual aid for the steps in your routine.

    For younger kids, especially, some kind of visual can be incredibly helpful in getting them through the steps. You can make a chart with magnets or stickers to mark off tasks as you accomplish them, or use flash cards, putting each card into a box or small paper bag as you finish the tasks.

  6. Practice your morning routine.

    A few days before school, go through your morning routine to practice. Make it extra fun by letting your child choose where they would like to go once you’re both ready, like the playground or a special morning coffee date. Or, you can both get your child’s favorite doll or stuffed animal ready for school and “drop it off” at school together.

  7. Decide on the first day of school outfit together the night before.

    Giving your child the opportunity to decide will give them a sense of control and get them excited for their first day.

  8. Leave yourself plenty of time on the morning of the first day.

    Rushing through the morning routine will not only stress you out, it will stress out your child and make tantrums more likely. You’ve probably noticed this when you need to get out the door quickly, and your child is refusing to get dressed or put on shoes. Wake up early enough to go through the routine at a leisurely pace, with a little extra time in case your child is feeling nervous or acting out—plus time to snap some photos!

  9. Practice separating and coming back.

    If you have a stage four clinger on your hands, you can start slow with a doll or stuffed animal. Pretend to drop it off at school together, explaining that you’ll be back to pick it up later. The next level up is to practice separating for a few minutes during a playdate. Team up with another mom, and offer to return the favor. Just going to grab coffee for you both is the perfect amount of practice time to show your child you’ll be right back. If you know other class moms, you can also have a group playdate where each week you rotate which mom leaves, while the rest of the moms stay. This gives the kids a chance to bond and practice separation.

  10. Stop overthinking this.

    It’s great to be prepared, but there are some things we just can’t control. Part of preparing is letting go and realizing everything is going to be absolutely ok. However smooth or messy, try to find joy in the first day of school. Just because your kid is nervous or crying does not mean it’s a bad experience. This is a wonderful opportunity for your child to grow, for you to grow as a parent, and for both to grow a stronger bond together. 

Whether you believe it or not, I promise you, you’ve got this! Now get ready to enjoy the most eerily silent and delicious cup of coffee of your life!