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How to help your kids channel their back-to-school bravery

first day of school
Written by Mallory Owen

Is your family in back-to-school mode? Maybe your child is heading off to school for the very first time. How is your child feeling about this? Excited? Nervous? A bit of both?

Life has lots of unpredictability, or lots of ‘waves.’ Some will be small, like spilling your coffee in the morning, and some will be big, like the first day of a new job. For children, going to school for the first time — or even heading back to school for a brand new school year — can be one of the biggest waves in their young lives.

As you get closer to the big day, your child might experience a mix of emotions ranging from eager anticipation to big-time nerves. The good news is, it is possible to feel nervous and to do something anyway.

In times of uncertainty, it can be helpful to focus on the things we can control. This allows us to create some predictability that can be comforting in the midst of everything new.

With your help, children can:

Make choices

  • Your child can help with back-to-school shopping. For example, choosing lunch foods and/or school supplies. It might help if there’s something for your child to look forward to, like a favourite snack.
  • Consider encouraging your child to wear or take something familiar with them to school for comfort – not everything needs to be new.


  • It can be a good idea to practice tasks that will be new for your child, such as the walk to school or opening lunch containers. For younger children, spend some time before the big day introducing them to what their new backpack and lunch bag look like so they can find them at school!

Plan the first night

  • Even though going to school is unpredictable, coming home from school can be entirely planned! Your child can help plan a family activity for the first night home from school and have this to look forward to all day.

Do something now

  • Is there an activity you and your child love to do together? Maybe it’s something you haven’t done in a long time that you have fond memories of, or something you do all the time. Plan some special time together before school starts to do something that will make you BOTH feel a little better.

‘Ride the wave’

  • You can help your child get through that first day of school by helping them feel okay with being both nervous AND brave. Share a story of a time when you had to do something you were nervous about and didn’t want to do. Remind your child that you made it through, even if it was difficult. Our feelings might be unpredictable (we might feel brave, anxious, excited, happy or scared), but we can choose our actions (tell your child: “you can do it anyway”)!

View more school readiness tips and resources from Sunnybrook’s Neonatal Follow-Up Clinic »

About the author

Mallory Owen

Mallory Owen is an occupational therapist at Sunnybrook's Neonatal Follow-Up Clinic.