Battling the back-to-school butterflies

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By Nicole Swain, Psy.D.

Whether summer was jam-packed with activities or filled with complaints about being bored with nothing to do, children often have a tough time making the back-to-school transition.

As with any new or potentially unsettling situation — like starting school for the first time or entering a new grade or new school — allow your children time to adjust. Remind them that everyone feels a little nervous about the first day of school and soon it will all become an everyday routine.
Emphasize the positive things about going back to school, such as hanging out with friends, meeting new classmates, buying cool school supplies, getting involved in sports and other activities, and showing off new clothes (or snazzy accessories if your child has to wear a uniform).
It’s also important to talk to children about what worries them and offer reassurance: Are they afraid they won’t make new friends or get along with their teachers? Is the thought of schoolwork stressing them out? Are they worried about the bully from last year?

“To help ease back-to-school butterflies, try to transition kids into a consistent school-night routine a few weeks before school starts.”

Parents should also consider adjusting their schedules to make the transition smoother. If possible, it’s especially beneficial for parents to be home at the end of the schoolday for the first week. Many working moms and dads don’t have that flexibility, and they can try to arrange their evenings to give kids as much time as they need, especially during those first few days.

If your child is starting a new school, contact the school before the first day to arrange a visit. And to help ease back-to-school butterflies, try to transition kids into a consistent school-night routine a few weeks before school starts. Also make sure your children:

  • Get enough sleep (establish a reasonable bedtime so they’ll be well-rested and ready to learn in the morning)
  • Eat a healthy breakfast (children are more alert and do better in school if they eat a good breakfast every day)
  • Write down need-to-know information to help them remember details such as their locker combination, what time classes and lunch start/end, homeroom and classroom numbers, teachers’ and/or bus drivers’ names, etc.
  • Have them organize and set out what they need the night before (homework and books should be put in backpacks and clothes should be laid out in their bedrooms)

Although it’s normal to be anxious in any new situation, some children develop real physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches, associated with the start of school. If you’re concerned that your child’s worries go beyond the normal back-to-school jitters, speak with your child’s doctor, teacher or school counselor.


Nicole Swain, PsyD is a Pediatric Psychologist at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. For more information about dealing with your child’s back-to-school issues, visit the “KidsHealth” section under the “Health Information” tab on the Children’s Hospital website (

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