Easing the back-to-school transition

by Liz Marchant

For lots of parents, sending the kids back to school or childcare can be a relief. Getting back into regular routines after the disruption of the holidays means parents no longer have to entertain bored kids or figure out alternative vacation care arrangements while the children are on holidays.

However, those first few days and even weeks of going back to school can be stressful for working parents.

For a start, there may be new routines around packing lunches and ironing school uniforms, as well as navigating before- and after-school arrangements. Even for families settling back into comfortable, well-practised routines, there could be unexpected stressors.

For example, a child who has previously gotten on well at school may suddenly feel anxious about starting a new school year. Or a previously-confident primary-schooler may face their first day at high school with considerable trepidation.

And few things compare to the stress caused by realising you’ve failed to procure an essential piece of school kit in time for the first day.

As a parent, it can be hard to juggle the responsibilities of being productive at work and adequately supporting their children through the back-to-school upheaval.

As a veteran of many back-to-school periods, here are some tips to ensure those first few days go as smoothly as possible:

1. Be prepared
The last few days of the holidays often fly by in a whirlwind of last-minute activities. It’s important to take some time to get ready for the year ahead. This can include:

  • talking to your children about the arrangements for the new year and answering any questions they may have doing a dry run of any new arrangements so the first day doesn’t feel so scary
  • thoroughly checking all uniforms and equipment to confirm everything is present and correct
  • ensuring kids’ phones (if they have them) have adequate credit so they can call you in an emergency, such as if they miss the bus or forget where they’re supposed to go after school
  • preparing lunches in advance so kids can grab what they need from the cupboard and freezer without wasting time in the mornings.

2. Get time off if you need it
Depending on your situation, it might make sense to take a few days off at the beginning of the school year to help ease the transition. Or you may want to arrange a flexible work schedule that lets you be there for school drop-off and pick-up, at least for the first week or so.

It’s important to remember to set these arrangements up with your employer in plenty of time. This means discussing your potential needs and requesting time off or flexibility accordingly. Doing it in advance will mean you have one less thing to worry about when you’re trying to get everyone off to school or childcare on time.

For more information on how to ask your employer for flexible working arrangements, check out our story on this topic.

3. Expect the unexpected
Transitions into childcare, kindy, primary school, and high school all vary from child to child. Your most confident child could suddenly become your most anxious one as the first day of school approaches. And your normally-shy kid could take to school like a duck to water, coming home filled with tales of new friends and experiences.

It’s important to be ready for anything and have support structures in place to deal with the unexpected. Even if you think you won’t need to take time off work or require flexibility, it’s important to let your employer know that your family is about to undergo a change in routine and, consequently, unforeseen circumstances could arise. This may mean you need to duck out for an hour to pick up an inconsolable child, or drop off forgotten lunchboxes, for example. If your employer is aware of this possibility ahead of time, then an unexpected interruption won’t have such a big impact.

4. Ignore the guilt
It’s natural to feel guilty when you go from spending lots of quality time with your kids to sending them back to school. This can be exacerbated by kids who struggle with the new routine. And, if you feel you’re not doing your job as well as you could be during this time, those feelings of guilt can add up very quickly.

It’s important to remember that working mums aren’t alone in feeling guilt; it’s a universal emotion. We all need to remind ourselves that we’re doing our best and our best is good enough. Planning ahead can reduce the amount of guilt you feel, as you’ll feel more in control of the balance between supporting your children and being a good employee.