Top 10 Back-to-School Tips (esp for first timers!)

As much as we joke about how excited we as moms are that it’s almost Back-to-School time… there’s also the reality that for many it’s not such an exciting time….

Truth be told most of our kids will find the transition tough, and some of us moms will too!

Whether they’re heading back to a familiar school environment or starting Grade 1 (or even Grade 8), there’s plenty of emotional minefields to deal with during the next week or so as we help our kids get ready for the next school season.

This is a time of trepidation for many, so to make the Back-School transition a smooth one for you and your kids, here are a few of the my Back-to-School tips


1. Talk, talk, talk

Talk about school positively, but realistically, you don’t want the first day of school to be a major anti-climax! This is a huge transition for your child and a positive outlook and attitude towards school will help them to settle in well. You’ll definitely be aware that your child will be out of sorts if they’re heading to a new school, but it’s also worth remembering that even kids already established in a school might be feeling anxious about heading back… A new teacher, a new classroom, different kids, uncomfortable uniform items, an unfamiliar routine – these all have the capacity to induce a stomach ache of nerves. Acknowledge that this isn’t an easy time and keep chatting about the exciting aspects of heading back to school (seeing old friends, meeting new ones, playing sport etc). Be ready to listen to whatever is bothering your child and help to calm their fears. Chat about what they can expect on the first day, reassure them that you’ll be picking them up as soon as you can at the arranged meeting spot (Grade 1’s often have a set place for a few weeks). If they are starting school for the first time read a few books together about the process and answer any questions they have. Remind them that there are probably a lot of other kids who are feeling exactly the same way as they are on the first day of school and that the teachers know that kids feel nervous and will make an extra effort to make sure everyone feels as comfortable as possible.

2. Anticipate emotions

Be prepared for every sort of emotional reaction from your child before school starts and on the first few mornings thereafter. There may be tears, overexcitement, shyness, irritability. With my daughter I had at least 2 weeks of daily tears for each of Grade N, Grade R AND Grade 1. We’re heading into Grade 2 this year and let’s just stay I’m stocking up on the Twinsavers in anticipation! Each child deals with change differently and while there may be only excitement on the first morning, don’t be surprised if there are tears the next few days! This is not a sign that they had a bad experience, it’s just their way of dealing with their emotions of all the change and is perfectly normal, even expected. Be aware that kids kids see their parents as their safe haven so venturing into the unknown without mum or dad can be frightening, but is usually overcome quite quickly. This “safe haven” feeling can also mean that older kids may take out their frustrations in the safety of their own home, so you can anticipate a few more emotional days! Be prepared for tantrums in the hours immediately after school. Being back at school where they have to sit still, behave, follow instructions etc is tiring for young kids so a tantrum or tearful outburst is your childs’ way of releasing the tension of being “perfect” all day. Once you arrive home give them an hour to relax and unwind with a snack, some outdoor play, a ride on their bike or some alone quiet time in their room if that is what suits your child best. Another tip is to keep extra murals to a minimum in the first term. Your child will be exhausted from all the changes anyway so until they adjust to their new routine keep after school activities simple, fun and low in number, especially if they are in Grade 1. There’s no need to sign up for everything straight away!

3. Connect with friends before school starts

A few days before school goes back arrange a one-on-one playdate with a friend from school. This is especially helpful if they haven’t seen friends during the holidays and feel a bit disconnected. Alternatively host a “hangout” I’ll be doing one for each of my kids in the next week before school starts where they can invite a handful of friends round to swim, play in the garden or watch a movie – it helps them to reconnect and feel like they have a friend to hang with at break time on the first day. If your child is starting a brand new school try to arrange a few play dates with another child who will be attending the same school or in the same class (if you know in advance). Ask around on the playground at your child’s playschool or even on Facebook in the area (you’ll be surprised how easily kids connect – it’s us parents that make it complicated!)

4. Be prepared

Help your kids feel in control by being prepared yourself when it comes to uniform, stationary and sports equipment. Obtain the stationary requirements list and your child with you to make the purchases or get them involved with labelling everything once you bring them home. Having the right tools will help your child feel prepared. Let your child practice using some of the supplies that he’s not used before — such as pastels or a protractor so they will feel comfortable using them in class when the time comes. Label everything – books, uniform, sports clothing, pencils, lunchbox, bag etc. Choose a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back or better yet get one on wheels if your school allows it. Pack light if possible – the backpack should never weigh more than 10% to 20% of your child’s body weight and remind your child to use both shoulder straps. And be prepared with a packed of pocket tissues in your own handbag, as well as your child’s backpack for those Back-to-School sniffles that seem to sneak up on us on the day!

5. Ease into the routine

Switching from a summer holiday “routine” to a school schedule can be stressful for everyone in the household – mostly moms, but kids too! Routines help children feel comfortable, and establishing a solid school routine will make the first day of school go much smoother. Children who come to school happy, relaxed and organised tend to do better and settle better. Eliminate rushing by laying out school clothes and packing lunches & bags the night before (the kids can help!). Avoid first-day-of-school mayhem by planning your new morning routine a few days beforehand – set the alarm clock for the school wake up time, prepare a healthy breakfast, get dressed, brush your teeth, pack your bags and then get in the car on time. This will help reduce any anxiety your child may have about starting school and will keep everyone calmer and happier. If your child is still young set up a simple picture schedule with a list of what they need to do to to get ready for school which they can follow each morning.

6. Sleeeeeeeeeep

I know in our household sleep routines fly out the window during the holidays and no one can even remember what time bedtime is actually meant to be…. My advice is to start weaning kids off their super late nights about a week before school goes back and shift it a bit earlier every evening (even by 10 mins) so that they have at least 3 nights before school goes back at the correct bedtime. Sleep is so important for concentration during the day so it’s vital that kids get enough sleep in order to be successful at school. Children who do not get enough sleep do not learn as well as they can. And once school starts up in earnest set a consistent bedtime for your child and stick with it every night. Having a bedtime routine that is consistent will help your child settle down and fall asleep. Components of a calming pre-bedtime routine may involve a bath/shower, reading a book alone or together, and kissing them good-night. Be sure they don’t have a cell phone or electronic devices in their rooms at night and switch off all screens at least 1 hour before bedtime. In fact, now that they are back at school ensure you keep screen time to a minimum in general during the week. The optimal amount of sleep for most younger children is 10 – 12 hours per night and for adolescents aged 13 and older aim for 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Be warned that you may have a spate of bad behaviour in the first few days back at school which is often a sign that your child is overtired!

7. Meet the teacher

If your child is anxious about who their new teacher will be or whether they will like them try locating the teacher’s picture on a school website or in a school magazine, so that your child knows what their face looks like on the first day. As soon as possible try to connect with their teacher in person. Most schools have a meeting within the first 2 weeks of school where parents can connect briefly with the teacher. This meeting will usually answer all your questions (and those of your child) as well as give you an idea of what to expect throughout the year and how the school operates. At that meeting find out the teacher’s preferred method of communication (via homework diary, email, whatsapp) and use that throughout the year to stay in touch. Keep the lines of communication open with your school and teacher but remember that schools are extremely busy places, so if you have a question, write it down and send it in with your child or drop an email to the teacher. Always make an appointment if you want to meet face-to-face with the teacher or the principal. The class teacher should always be your first port of call if you have a concern or if your child is unhappy at school.

8. Stock up on healthy breakfast and lunch box options

Breakfast is a critical meal for kids to fuel themselves with energy to get through the day. Find out which breakfasts your child enjoys (Healthy ones! Now is NOT the time for Coco Pops!) and stock up on that so they can help themselves in the morning. In terms of lunch box snacks stock up on some health options in your pantry and fridge and make sure that you pack enough food to last them through the day, especially if they are staying on for sport. Most schools have a healthy eating policy so double check to see what is not permitted by the school (eg nuts/ sweets/ fizzy drinks) and pack accordingly. Encourage your child to bring home whatever they don’t eat so that you can keep track on what they have eaten and what isn’t going down well.

9. Be punctual

Don’t be late on the first day because you’re taking photos of the kids on the front step. In fact, don’t be late EVER. This is a very good life skill to instill in your child from an early age so aim to alway arrive on time for school. If possible arrive at the school gate a few minutes before the bell at the end of the day. Children become anxious very quickly if there isn’t someone there to collect them, even if its only 5 minutes later than home time and the first day of school is NOT the time to be late! And if you aren’t able to be there to pick them up, arrange for a grandparent or a familiar au pair to be the smiling face waiting to hear all about their first day! They can start aftercare the next day if that’s the plan! Thereafter try your best to never be more than 5 mins late. I’m not perfect at this but I’ll be trying harder to make it to the gate before my kids do in 2018!! Ensure that your child knows the designated pick up point and that they only ever go home with you or someone they have been told will be fetching them! Tell them that they may not leave the school grounds with anybody else without prior permission (even a friend!).

10. Let go… and let your child find their independence!

Yes Back-to-School, especially the First Day of BIG School is a big deal, but it’s important to do your best to keep your own emotions in check until you get back into your car after dropping them off on the first morning. Then you can cry your eyes out into your Twinsaver tissues all you want! Kids pick up on our emotions so quickly, so to help them settle in easily this is the one day that it is very important that they are protected from your own anxiety! This is the moment you have to hand over your previous darling and TRUST! Trust the teachers. Trust your child. Encourage your child to be independent, they will only benefit from it. After the first day or two, stand back and let them walk to the door or line by themselves. They will be ok. Say goodbye, give them a hug, wave and walk away. The sooner you allow them to be independent the better – for both of you!

Then, once you’ve wiped your tears, head off to your favourite coffee shop for a mini-celebration of your own – you’ve survived the holidays AND the handover. Hooray!!



Have any more Back-to-School tips to add to this list? Feel free to let me know in the comments below. I’d love to hear your Back-to-School tips and advice!



Don’t forget to PIN this post for future reference if you’re not quite at the Back to School stage yet!


Kathryn Rossiter

Kathryn is a South African lifestyle blogger and mom of 2 who has been blogging daily for over 9 years! She writes about travel, health, beauty, fashion, decor and family... but not food (unless it's food she's eaten made by someone else) as she is a hopeless cook. She only wakes up early for 2 things... a red-eye flight to somewhere exotic and early morning game drives. She has just finished an extensive home renovation and would prefer to never see another box again. She's never met a chocolate or glass of bubbles that she didn't like!


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