Back to School Traditions

Do you remember the commercial for Staples with the happy dad purchasing school supplies while his children trail behind with very long faces, in the background the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is playing? The TV spot always makes me laugh. It’s a little true, right? While parents may be happy to get their children back into a regular schedule and the beginning of school can be a happy time for many children, it can also one full of fear and anxiety. Anxiety can hit any child at any age.

School anxiety is often tied to meeting new friends, confronting a bully, assessment tests, homework, being left out, or the pressure of college admissions. A 2015 Web MD survey found that homework and standardized tests were the number one stress inducer. It’s not just grade school where stress builds; 54% of college students said they had felt “overwhelming anxiety” (American College Health Association).

Cole Robertson, incoming Junior at Memorial High School said, “For me, taking the SAT and ACT college exams will make 11th grade more challenging than previous years.” The pressure of college admissions is enormous. Mitchell Stevens, professor at Stanford, says “Being a teenager is simply different than it was 20 years ago.Young people are expected to be measurably productive in a way that we only expected adults to be.” If the school is new, whether by the family moving or the student graduating to the next level, a child can experience even greater anxiety. My freshman year of high school, I moved from a small, private school to a large public school. I knew a few people but did not have any strong friendships yet. It seems so sad now, but I remember that first lunch period hanging out in the bathroom and eating Peanut M&Ms. I didn’t have anyone to sit with that day. It was tough. But I did go on to have some solid, wonderful friends. It just took time.

The first day can be a struggle! To find those friendships and places of belonging, students should be encouraged to join organizations and clubs that meet their interests. I also encourage my own children to look for the new kids who don’t have a group. Sometimes the kids click and become friends, and sometimes they do not. But just having another student reach out and be friendly can make such a difference between a good day and a horrible day. Additionally, being able to walk the campus before the first day of school and map out the student’s schedule can ease the situation making the first week less intimidating.

Back to school is not all stress and fears, much excitement blooms around the beginning of school. I mean, there are some pretty fabulous things to be excited about! So much is new: new school supplies, new clothes, new backpacks, new subjects, new teachers. Students also are able to finally challenge their mushy summer brain, attend football games, and catch up with friends. Kate Tidwell, incoming 7th grader at St. Francis said, “On the first day back it’s crazy with everyone catching up and trying to talk at once.”

What is the best way to start the year off right? For students, Seventeen Magazine recommends watching a funny movie to start the week off in a good mood. Personally, l love that idea! Another Seventeen tip suggests students declutter their rooms so they can find needed supplies and clothes. Decluttering and organizing can also help clear the mind and put us in a good mental place for a fresh start. offers some hints for parents to help their children start the year off strong, and continue strong, including posting the weekly schedule, designating a command center for papers to be signed, creating a self-serve station in the pantry or refrigerator for healthy, easy-to-grab snacks such as granola bars, dried fruit, yogurt and string cheese. Another personal favorite is keeping a special bin for finished library books so they are easy to find and collect at the due date.

The beginning of school takes on different meanings to different kids at different seasons in their lives. Lester Stiles, who is entering the 4th grade at Bunker Hill Elementary, is most excited about seeing his friends. Whereas Morgan Brown, returning to Baylor University as a Sophomore, is thrilled about not living in a dorm this year. She is going to live in a house off campus with six of her closest friends. To help the year start off with the best foot forward, families can create an annual tradition or routine. School traditions can be comforting, fun, and make lasting memories.

Some cute ideas by Parents Magazine include decorating your child’s bedroom door, packing a special lunch, and writing messages in sidewalk chalk. And, don’t forget the all-important First Day of School Picture. Cole Robertson says, “After all of these years, mom still takes a picture of my sister, JJ, and me in the morning before we leave for school.” Kate Tidwell’s family also takes first day of school pictures. “My sister Sarah just graduated from St. Francis this past May, and we compared her very first day of school photo to her last day of school photo, twelve years later!” Lester’s mom, Katie Stiles, takes fun, unscripted videos of the school bus arriving on that first day each year. Traditions come at all times of the school year and all ages, including when our college students visit home. Morgan says her family goes out to dinner for Mexican food when she comes home.

So, what do the students say is good advice for starting this Fall? Lester Stiles says to “be kind and try new things.” Cole Robertson says with 600 students in his grade, there is always someone new to meet. And Morgan Brown, returning to Baylor offers, “Have fun, but make sure you study, too! College can be hard if you don’t balance your time wisely.” Now that is good advice for any age.