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17 Easy Back-to-School Tips That'll Make The Year a Little Easier

To help you enter a not-so-normal school year, Woman's Day spoke to experts to learn how to hmake the transition from summer a little easier.

back to school tips
Justin Paget

No matter how many back-to-school tips you've gathered over the years, the season somehow always manages to be stressful and a little bit hectic, right? “Transitions can be tough for kids,” Kristen Race, PhD, author of Mindful Parenting, tells Woman's Day. “Even when they are excited about going to school, it is often mixed with feelings of angst about how they will fit in socially and academically. Plus, kids are often having to shift from the lazy, slow-moving summer morning to a get-up-and-get-out pace which can feel unsettling.”

And this year, with many families readying themselves for online learning, the usual stresses of back-to-school are amplified with the added stresses of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. "Anxiety in the household tends to increase around back-to-school time for both parents and kids," Lori Gottlieb, parenting expert and therapist, tells Woman's Day. But that added anxiety doesn't have to become overpowering. Gottlieb says a key to overcoming it is through open communication between parents and children, especially when parents don't attempt to solve all their kid's problems but instead listen to how their kid is feeling.

Since the first day of school is just around the corner, we tapped some clever moms and parenting pros to share their best tips back-to-school tips to help make your kids’ summer-to-school transition as smooth as possible. These brilliant ideas — from shopping tips to routine game-changers to genius hacks—will help the crew earn an A+ this semester and beyond.

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Really talk to your kids about their feelings.

Back-to-school can be a stressful time for parents and children alike, and that's why Gottlieb stresses the importance of talking to your kids about how they're feeling. "Instead of trying to fix it for them, just have them tell you about how they're feeling," she says. "Create that open space for them." Knowing that they can share their feelings with you will be helpful going forward through easy and hard times.

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10'000 Hours
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Play together.

Back-to-school doesn't have to be all business. Make sure you remember to play. "The mood of a house is contagious," Gottlieb says, so if parents are stressed, the kids will pick up on it. Pick a time when, instead of pestering your kids with questions about homework, exams, and assignments, all that's on the syllabus is play and relaxation. Even just half an hour will make a difference in the mood of the house.

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Keep an eye out for changes in your child.

Back-to-school can be stressful no matter what, and this year with all the uncertainty about the future, it can feel even more so. Gottlieb recommends parents keep an eye out for changes in their child's behavior. For example, if they were super talkative before and have become withdrawn, or if they used to be easy going but are now short-tempered. Noticing these behavior changes and having an open dialogue so they know they can talk to you is important. And if they need more help, consider encouraging them to talk to a professional, who they can meet with virtually.

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Give extra support.

In times of change or stress, such as going back to school, it's important to give your little ones a little extra support. Whether that's through verbal compliments, handwritten notes, or whatever method works best for communicating with your child, Gottlieb emphasizes making sure your child knows "I see you, I hear you, I understand you, and I care." If you're not sure exactly what to say, try out Rice Krispies Treats' Love In Case Of kits which give pointers on times when your child might need a little extra boost, and a sweet treat to go with it.

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Hold a family meeting.

Your routines and standards may have loosened over the summer, so it’s a good idea discuss with your kids how that will change for the school year, says Julie Ross, executive director of Parenting Horizons. “Bedtime is often moved to an earlier time during the school year. Ask your kids what will help them accomplish this change. Do they need blackout shades? Time within the routine to read and get sleepy?” says Ross. Other topics on the discussion table can be homework schedule and screen time.

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Establish connections.

“Help your kids set up a play date with other children who will be in their class. That can ease some of that ‘Who will I sit with at lunch? anxiety and generate excitement about the new year,” says Kristen Race, PhD, author of Mindful Parenting. Also, check if your school hosts any events where your child will have an opportunity to meet their teacher.

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Save on school supplies.

First, do a sweep of the house to see what essentials may be hiding in a junk drawer or the back of the closet. Then make a list of everything you still need and swing by The Dollar Store for cheap school supplies, suggests Kumiko Love, founder of finance blog The Budget Mom. “A 120-sheet notebook costs $2 compared to $4.20 each for a similar product elsewhere,” says Love. “I’ve seen price markups at big-box stores that range anywhere between 30 to 50%.”

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Stock up together.

Shopping for supplies solo may be faster, but taking your kids along is the better bet. They'll be more excited about using the cool stuff they get to pick out, says Marcella Moran, PhD, coauthor of Organizing the Disorganized Child. And that's incentive to keep it all organized.

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Create a visual schedule.

“Children are more likely to thrive, be independent, and struggle less when they know what’s expected of them,” says Francyne Zeltser, Psy.D., a NY-based certified school psychologist and adjunct professor. That’s why she recommends making a weekly schedule that uses pictures, not just words. “A visual schedule helps children easily understand and manage the daily events in their own lives,” says Zeltser. DIY how-to: Attach a drawing or photo of each scheduled activity on an index card, laminate the card, and apply a Velcro sticker. Then add these to a weekly chart where you can post these cards each day.

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Designate an activity-free day.

“If you've got multiple kids, the activity schedule can be challenging. In my house, we've found it helpful to double up on some days, and then have one day with nothing,” says Laura Vanderkam, author of Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done. “If a child has a challenging long-term homework project, that's a good night to focus on it. It can be a good evening for more spontaneous family adventures, or just to relax if that's what people need. Plus if something gets canceled some other night, you have a spot to reschedule it. Slack makes everything feel more doable!”

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Snag an outfit organizer.

Jenny Reimold, lifestyle expert and mom of seven, has had her share of “outfit power battles” before school. “We all don’t coincidentally have budding fashionistas but rather have growing children asserting their independence,” she says. “Allow your child to pick out their clothing for the week on Sunday, and then place each outfit into the spot for the correct day. This gives them a sense of control and helps ease the pain of a stressful morning routine.”

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Upgrade your kid's backpack.

You don't need to buy a new backpack every year. Get crafty by ironing on colorful patterned patches inside their bag for extra storage. Or add reflective tape with animal and glitter designs to the side to make the bag feel brand new — and safe!

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Wait for the athletic sales.

Trae Bodge, Woman's Day's financial expert, says that if last year's trends hold, there will be plenty of sales on fitness shoes and clothes in stores like Macy's, Kohl's, Nordstrom, Nike, REI, and Adidas.

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Hold off on tech gear.

If you promised the little one an iPad for this school year, they're going to have to wait a little longer. According to Bodge, the best deals will come after Apple launches their newest devices in September.

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Rearrange their closet.

An organized closet cuts down on what-to-wear dilemmas, says Laura Leist, author of Eliminate Chaos: The 10-Step Process to Organize Your Home & Life. Donate outgrown clothes and transform the newly streamlined closet with hanging organizers and clearly labeled shelves.

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Sign up for after-school activities.

Whether it's sports or ballet, these programs will keep your kids active with something to do after school.

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Pack their bag the night before.

Avoid forgetting things during the morning rush by telling your child to pack their sports bags and backpacks before bedtime.

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