9 ways to make the back to school transition easier on your kids—and yourself

If transitions are hard on your child—and your child is hard on you—try these strategies to help them cope, and find a way to cope yourself.

9 ways to make the back to school transition easier on your kids—and yourself

Are things beginning to go awry at your house? They are at mine.

The kids are on edge, constantly provoking, teasing and pushing one another's buttons. One child's skin is so thin she might burst. Suddenly, every challenge we've faced, the bigger the better, is flaring up again. Why this? Why now? You'd think something big was going on and—oh.

Yeah. School's starting.

With a new teacher and a new grade. That means all the old expectations that were never easy in the first place are on the way back—while the specter of new ones, still unknown, looms.

Back-to-school is a challenging time for most kids, but for those with anxiety or learning and/or behavioral challenges, the start of school—whether they "like" school or not—can bring back behaviors you thought they'd long since left behind, leaving you bewildered until you realize that there is a good reason for all of this regressing.

Your child knows what's coming, and their brain is so busy coping with the stress of preparing for change, or dealing with the change as it happens, that all the self-control they've built up seems to have washed right down the drain.

If transitions are hard on your child—and your child is hard on you—try these strategies to help them cope, and find a way to cope yourself.

1. Stop the catastrophizing.

When you watch a child who's faced a lot of challenges take one step forward and two steps back, it's easy to hop the first train on the This-Is-Never-Going-to-Get-Better line and ride it to the Very-Worst-Thing-You-Can-Imagine station. Try to stop tormenting yourself.

Reach out to other parents who you know have been on that train and find a way to laugh at whatever worst-case scenario you're imagining. It's just a couple of weeks, not a lifetime. Just a little regression, not the end of all hope.

2. Don’t feed the beast.

Your child needs some extra care right now, but may be "asking" for it by doing everything possible to push you away or frustrate you. When your child is dumping out their emotional bucket on the floor in front of you, try not to let your own emotions refill it. One mother who has been down this road many times used a phrase I loved: "I try to stay calm. I try not to feed the beast."

3. If you see something, don’t always say something.

Don't feel like you need to interfere every time you hear the old patterns repeating. Some of this you can just watch and observe and let happen.

Allow siblings to work out their anxieties on one another as long as they aren't drawing blood or making things worse; they can be more tolerant of each other's foibles than you think.

Don't respond to the frustrated grunts over homework or shoe-tying or zippers unless you've been actively called. If your child is shrieking their way through the house in the morning, mad with panic over an unmade lunch or a lost book, bite your tongue. They're releasing tension (and that "helpful" reminder that she should have done all this last night isn't very helpful).

4. Respond, don’t react.

When you do find yourself sucked into the storm, walk softly. Respond rather than react. "Sometimes," said another parent, "the negative attention-seeker just needs a hug even though that's not what you may be feeling."

If you can give a tolerant, empathetic squeeze when the easier reaction would be to yell or scold or threaten, the gold star to you—plus the bonus of not spiraling into the darkness of guilt, remorse and repercussions over unleashing your own frustrations on your kid.

5. Trust your gut.

No matter how much your child has on their plate, some limits need to hold firm. Limits make kids feel secure. When a pro-level button pusher appears dressed in an outfit they would never leave the house in and declares that "you're not the boss of me," your Spidey-sense may tell you that this is bait.

The trick is to take the bait off the hook—to enforce your household rules without going down the emotional wormhole. Double gold star if you can pull it off and still enjoy your day afterward, and full and total empathetic been there done that too if you can't quite.

6. Plan ahead for stress.

One experienced mother raised a good point—"it would be strange if it wasn't a stressful time." You've helped your child through transitions before. Now that you know this is just another one, reach back into that earlier toolbox for whatever has helped in the past, even if you thought you'd left scripts and schedules and charts and social stories behind. Familiar anxiety-coping strategies might work better than anything new, and you may not need them for long.

7. Allow extra time.

Kids pick up on our time stress. Instead of pushing the limits, take it slow, and accommodate the inevitable unexpected. It's not easy, but trust me, no one ever said, "Ugh, I'm sorry we got such an early start" during the first month of school.

8. Start as slow as you can.

School isn't the only activity that starts in the fall. Many teachers and coaches are trying to pack as much in before winter weather puts an end to it all. For children with special needs, or even those who are just more reserved, it's hard to plunge right into a sport or club right on top of heading back to school—and equally hard to join in late.

Hitting the ground running can mean some kids aren't going to run at all. If there's pressure to sign up and start early, ask the adults involved if it's possible to hold the door for just a little longer, to offer a second chance to sign-up, and not to nail down roles and jobs in the first week, which makes joining in later more difficult.

9. Don’t pile it all on.

I still remember my daughter, faced with a playdate I'd planned after school on an early day of first grade, wailing "but I'm so tired!" Especially in that first week, and for kids who are already struggling with the transition, sometimes school is enough.

No back-to-school shopping stop on the way home, no outing with friends. Protect the downtime your child has, even if it sounds fun to fit something else in. If your kids are in an after-school program, try to make sure they're allowed downtime; if they come directly home from school, make sure some afternoons stay clear.

Above all, be gentle on your children, and yourself, as we hurtle headlong into new schedules and a new season. Try to ease into it where you can, and if you can't, follow a long day up with a quiet night. Get some rest, breathe deep and take care of each other. This will all become routine soon enough. Just in time for the holidays.

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This 'mama' necklace is a bestseller for a powerful reason

There's a lot going on in the world right now, but one thing that's certain? You're still mama.

There's a lot going on in the world right now, but one thing that's certain? You're still mama. No matter what is going on at work, what decision you make about heading back to school, or how you're caring for your family right now, we know you're the best mama for your family.

So in case you need a little reminder of just how incredible you are, we love this sweet necklace from Tiny Tags. And other mamas do, too, because it's been one of our top sellers for weeks.

Whether you're coveting it for yourself or want to gift it to your favorite mama, it's one of those gifts that'll keep on giving years later. It's dainty enough to easily layer with just about anything you have in your jewelry collection, but is just as beautiful as a standalone piece to wear daily. And in these tough seasons, it's honestly a gentle, much-needed reminder that you were made for this. You can do hard things. You are doing the best you can even when it feels like you can't make one more decision.

Tiny Tags script 'mama' necklace

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The charm is 1/2" long and the chain is 16", falling just above most mama's collarbones. All Tiny Tags personalized jewelry is laser engraved by highly skilled artisans to make the most elegant pieces.


And, don't worry, it's totally low-maintenance. Simply polish with a polishing cloth every now and then for extra shine. Now to decide: gold or silver?

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


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Here are some our favorite "just because" gifts to give our hardworking mama friends.

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Laetitia lipstick

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This red lipstick is perfect for your makeup enthusiast bestie who is looking to spruce up her life in quarantine. Crafted in the United States, these bee and vegan-friendly and cruelty-free lipsticks are created to flatter all complexions. Cupid and Psyche Beauty makes finding the perfect red lip way too easy!


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Matilda's Bloombox

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If we have to be stuck inside, we might as well have some gorgeous florals to brighten up the space. Matilda's Bloombox locally sources blooms, delivers them to her door and provides simple tips on how to arrange it into a beautiful bouquet.


'I Am Enough' bracelet

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Let this dainty bracelet serve as a constant reminder to your bestie that she is enough. She'll wear this on her wrist and read this daily oath to herself, "I Am Enough."


Glow assorted teas

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Find your voice journal

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Premium frother

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Bath soak infusion kit

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Say hello to hydration! She'll be feeling smooth and relaxed as ever after a long bath soaking in these salts. This vegan + cruelty-free set incorporates dead sea salt and dehydrated coconut milk powder for an ultra hydrating experience.


Tiny Tags 'mama' necklace

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It's a hard-earned title she answers to a hundred times per day. Whether she's new to the club or a seasoned professional, this delicate script 'mama' necklace is guaranteed to be a perfect fit.


Superfood honey

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With a lack of sleep and jam-packed days, getting through the afternoon can be a real challenge. Send her a powerful pick-me-up in the form of a therapeutic blend of royal jelly, bee pollen, propolis and raw honey. It makes the ideal companion for tea, smoothies, yogurt or even on its on.


Calming midnight mask with melatonin

Who doesn't deserve a reminder to pamper themself every once in awhile? Even better, this mask does all its work at night while you're sleeping with no extra effort needed. It's an amazing plant-powered antioxidant-packed mask that has melatonin, wild dandelion leaf and hyaluronic acid to rehydrate, repair and reset facial skin. It's so good, you might want to gift it to yourself. We won't tell, mama.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


Sen. Kamala Harris is Joe Biden's VP: What this means for mothers

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[Editor's note: Motherly is committed to covering all relevant presidential candidate plans as we approach the 2020 election. We are making efforts to get information from all candidates. Motherly does not endorse any political party or candidate. We stand with and for mothers and advocate for solutions that will reduce maternal stress and benefit women, families and the country.]

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