Back to School Challenge

Coral Gables Counseling Center - Wednesday, August 08, 2018
By Lisa Jimenez, LMHC

Licensed Mental Health Counselor

With school right around the corner, I’m sure many of you are beginning to think about the mental and physical prep that goes into starting a new academic year. Often children and families begin to feel a bit anxious and overwhelmed noticing their summer days coming to an end. With this in mind, we thought “what better way to add a little fun into this stressful time than to make it a challenge?!” Below are 10 tasks to complete over 10 days with the goal of starting off this next academic year feeling a bit more prepared and hopefully even excited to see what the next year holds!
Before beginning the challenge: Identify what date you or your child will be going back to school. Count 5 days prior to that date and this is when the challenge begins! (if you have more than one child with different start dates, choose the earliest date)

Day 1: Get pumped.
Today you and your family start the challenge and its important to find something that gets you excited. This could be be an inspirational movie that you all watch as a family, a song that has you singing along in the car, or a motivational quote. Whatever it is for you, find that inspiration and share it with your family or friends. What is it that inspires you? What steps can you take to move in that direction? (if your child is highly anxious about beginning the next year, it may help to contact the school and find a time to swing by within the next few days)

Day 2: Encourage one another.
In a world of technology, there’s nothing like receiving a handwritten letter. Take some time today and write a letter to a family member or friend pointing out some of their strengths and offering them some words of encouragement as they start prepping to get back to the books. Feel free to give it to exchange letters today or share them at dinner on Day 6.

Day 3: Organize your homework area. 
Many times we forget the importance of our surroundings on our ability to get our work done. Find somewhere in your home that’s free of distractions and set up your space with supplies you may need to study or complete assignments (flashcards, highlighters, etc). If studying at home is not your thing, check out nearby coffee shops or a local library to find the right location for you.

Day 4: Go shopping. 
Allow yourself and/or your child to pick out one new item, of course whatever the budget allows for. This can be anything from a new pack of fun pens, a cool binder, or a trendy backpack.

Day 5: Get Creative! 
Expressing ourselves through our creativity allows for healing and growth. Not only does it benefit us, but it’s just plain fun! Pick something big or small to decorate today. If you have some time on your hands, you can get messy and tie-dye socks or t-shirts. If you’re busy with other tasks it can be something small like decorating a page to insert in your binder or finding stickers to decorate your agenda. Whatever it is, have fun with this one! 

Day 6: “Back to School” Family Dinner. 
With the first day back at school, it’s important that the family come together to provide a sense of safety and nurturance. Ideally “home base” is where we can have fun, however, also air our worries and grievances. Tonight at dinner let’s talk about whatever’s coming up. It’s best to ease in with some simpler questions such as teachers’ names, peers, classroom setup, etc, while slowly working our way up to any worries about the next year. We want to make sure to end this conversation on a hopeful note, for example brainstorming some self-care ideas or sharing one event/activity we are excited for. If you’re not physically present with your family, a phone call or video call will do!

Day 7: Test out some apps. 
ipads, cellphones, and more! Day after day, parents share their frustrations with the overuse of technology. Fortunately, there are lots of helpful tools on the internet these days, so why not play off of this? Spend some time alone or with your child searching the internet for any organizational apps or apps related to difficulty areas. While you’re at it, check out some meditation or breathing apps such as Calm or Headspace.

Day 8: Share something. 
Have each child (or yourself) bring something home to share with the family. For some of the older ones, this might look like a picture they took with their friends or even a social media post. For the younger ones, they can bring something small like their name tag, folder, or their decorated item from day 7. 

Day 9: Nourish yourself. 
Allowing for children to take some ownership over their food choices will lead to a healthy relationship with food and their bodies later down the line. For day 9, give your child permission to pick 2 snacks they would like for you to pack in their lunchboxes. If you’re a bit older, you might want to do a quick google search and come up with a list of a few lunch or snack ideas before heading out to the store.

Day 10: Set an intention. 
We wouldn’t want our worries or fears to get the best of us. For the final day of the challenge, make a small poster (printer paper does the trick) with intentions for the next year. Before coming up with your intention, take a moment to reflect on last year. What worked? What didn’t? What was helpful? Here are a few examples: practice gratitude, find joy in learning, connect with others. 

So that’s it for the Back-to-School Challenge. If you and your loved ones are feeling cared for and energized, hooray! If those troubles are still getting you, that’s okay too. A little self-compassion and a few deep breaths can go a long way.