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Beat the Back to School Blues


The festive season is over, January seems too long and too short at the same time, and all of a sudden you’re staring down supply lists, sporting schedules and school uniforms again. It’s ok to be sad, stressed or scared about the end of summer holidays and the dawning of a new academic year, but doesn’t mean you deserve a full dose of Back to School Blues. How can you go back to school happy?

Bring the holidays back to school with you.

What is it about being on holidays that makes us enjoy life more, be nicer to each other and feel more like our true selves? Largely, it’s the removal of stress and the anticipation of a break, but it’s also about the way you live and interact with one another while on holidays. Of course, you have to go back to work and the kids have to go back to school, but which of the happier, temporary, holiday habits will you bring to school with you this year?

Try having a party with your family in which someone pulls the habits out of a hat. Everyone writes at least three of their favourite holiday habits on paper, folds them up and puts them in the hat. Then, going around the group, everyone pulls one habit at a time from the hat and the whole family brainstorms ways to bring that habit into school time. For example, while ‘spending all day at the beach’ might be beyond your schedule’s capacity, visiting the beach once a month might be more approachable. Other habits to consider putting in the hat include device-free dinner, morning exploring, or weekly game night.

Involve your kids in designing your plan

Figuring out who can do which sport on what day and where can be as difficult and dramatic as The Queen’s Gambit, but that doesn’t mean one person has to carry that burden alone. In fact, it’s better for everyone to share that load, especially as it involves what your kids will be doing, thinking about, worrying over and dedicating their time and energy to for several months at a time.

This doesn’t just mean extra-curricular activities. Whether you’re conscious of it or not (or of how ambitious or probable it is), you’re scheduling when your family will be used to the new or revived routine, when the team will be back in the swing of things and when you can stop worrying about getting logistics mixed up. So involve the whole team!

Work together to find three things that might be challenging this term and turn them into goals. For example, losing things might be a challenge for your child so set the goal of not losing anything for a whole fortnight and plan ways to make that happen (label items, use bigger labels, add the class to the label, ask the teacher to set up a lost property box for the classroom).

If your children are aware of the things that can go wrong in their school lives, they can be better prepared to deal with them if and when they come up, and by turning challenges into goals in advance, your kids know that they have your support and can be proud of themselves for rising to the challenge.

While you’ve got the team calendar handy, mark in three things to look forward to this term as well.

Check your emotions

Our children take their emotional cues from us about things that are still in the abstract. They tend to be emotional sponges and amplifiers. This means that before school goes back, while it’s still abstract to them, you have plenty of control over their back to school blues.

If you’re dreading the return to school or work, or are vocal about how much you’re looking forward to being rid of them (either to them or near them), you’re sending the message that school is a kind of punishment and they might hear a rejection in your words. The answer? Fake it until you make it.

  • instead of “I can’t wait until they go back” try “we’ve had a fantastic break together”
  • instead of “I’ll miss you while you’re at school all day” try “I’ll look forward to hearing all about your day”
  • instead of “we’ll have to get back into our old routines” try “we can try all sorts of new routines together”

Wrap up last year

Have a planning meeting with your family team. What was great about school last year and what wasn’t?

  • was something regularly fantastic? How can we keep that up this year?
  • was something routinely awful? How can we redesign the routine to avoid that thing?
  • is any one negative thing poisoning the idea of school even though it’s over and resolved?

If something negative is holding your child’s school experience hostage, it can help to talk about it. If you can use your adult analytical skills to help your child separate the bad from the good, this kind of problem may dissolve, or you may see a need or opportunity for more in-depth help. Either way, you’re helping your child to address an emotional problem impacting on their learning as early as possible – that’s a parenting win.

Practice gratitude

Write a letter, draw a picture, make a physical or digital game or compose a song that somehow includes at least 10 things connected to school that you and your child can be grateful for. This can be as simple or as existential as you like and is a great thing to return to regularly (when school is going well or not-so-well) to keep up the positive school vibes.

Have a back to school scavenger hunt

This one’s fairly self-explanatory. Using the school supply list, set your child up in their own room and give them the challenge to find all the necessary bits and bobs. Then you can go on a road trip for any missing or new items (perhaps take a photo at each stop) and enjoy checking everything off the list before dinner time for the prize of choosing the family movie or choosing the dinner menu for next week. You could even line up some friends and work together or challenge friends and family for the scavenger hunt prize – choosing the dessert for everyone!

Keeping the joy of summer holidays in perspective and consciously cultivating that in the school routine will help to keep Back to School Blues at bay for the entire family.

Casey Standen
Casey Standen is an education specialist with experience in a range of teaching contexts - from early childhood care, through to primary school education support and HSC teaching, she has lead the development of educational innovation companies including an online school and an edutainment company. Her interest lies in empowering students to get the most out of their learning experience, and in helping everybody to find the joy in education. Having studied her Masters of International Education with the University of Melbourne and the University of Helsinki, Casey brings a global perspective to Australian education.

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