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I Hope My Kids Never Experience the Same Back-to-School Anxiety I Had Growing Up

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When I was a kid, back-to-school season wasn’t like they paint it to be in the TV commercials.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there were plenty of giggling, smiling faces all decked out in their new Toughskins and Kmart sweatshirts on every school bus in my town, but I never really noticed them. If anything, kids like that — normal kids having a very normal “expected” experience upon their return to school — they just pissed me off.

I wanted desperately to be like them.

I wanted to want to go back to school in some capacity.

But the truth is, I didn’t want to go back.

Even now, I’m not sure why that is. But I’m wildly aware of it now that I have three young kids of my own. I have a son heading off to kindergarten in a few weeks. I have a daughter heading off to second grade. They’re both starting this year at a brand new school with teachers they’ve never seen before. With face after face in the halls and classrooms, each one a stranger until hopefully the day comes along when they’re not.

The thing is, some kids are overwhelmed by school even if it’s not the experience we had when we were children. Even if you weren’t like me and you never threw up a little in your mouth as the bus rolled up each year on that first day, there’s still a chance that your kid might be. Like me, I mean.

I have this suspicion that one of the worst and hardest things about being a parent is the fact that we’ve blocked out and forgotten almost everything about what it truly feels like to be 5 years old. Or 9. Or 16.
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And so I figure it’s a really good time to remind parents of that. It’s so tough for us sometimes a lot of times to understand what is going on in our own kids’ minds. We love them so damn much, but we forget what it’s like to be their age, to be doing stuff like going back to school. We forget the darker sides of being young; the very real fears and uncertainties that exist when you’re setting out into the world all by yourself.

I have this suspicion that one of the worst and hardest things about being a parent is the fact that we’ve blocked out and forgotten almost everything about what it truly feels like to be 5 years old. Or 9. Or 16. It’s natural, of course. Life erases life. But still. Some stuff comes back if we’re lucky. Or if we try really hard to remember outside of the good times and the laughter and the roller rink birthday parties.

Here’s what I can recall. I’m 44 now. But I stare hard at my own babies and it comes back, a little at a time. Sometimes a lot all at once.

I was an insecure kid. It was nobody’s fault. My dad split on my mom and my younger brother and me when I was 9. Gone. Kaput. That hurt, I’m sure. My mom was amazing; she did one hell of a job. But life is life. I’m sure my dad leaving us hurt me in ways I still don’t understand. On top of that, I was kind of overweight and pretty introverted. I was the kind of kid who was deathly afraid that the teacher would call on me, who feared I’d explode in a flaming ball of blazing embarrassment if she did.

Looking back now, I think I was a really cool young boy. I really do. I loved music and baseball and fishing and my mom. But I never felt cool at all. I was convinced that I just sucked at being cool. Plus I mostly sucked at sports too, and girls never ever liked me, and if they did … well, they did a damn fine job of keeping it under wraps back then. And for the last couple decades.

And so, with my little mind racing over here and zipping over there, and my mom doing the best she could all on her own, no one ever had any idea that in my tiny corner of the world, I was a kid afraid of school. I don’t know why that is.

Just try to be really alert and aware as you send your little ones off. Keep an eye out for the back-to-school blues. And if you think something is up, be the best listener you’ve ever been in your entire life.
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Every summer, right around the time that so many other kids in my neighborhood were getting all excited to be buying new backpacks and lunchboxes for the coming school year, I used to want to throw up. And so from the time I was in third grade until around the time I was in high school, I actually DID throw up, starting around the second week of August.

That’s how much I dreaded September, man. That’s how sickly upset it made me.

This isn’t some sob story from me, either. I’ve done alright. I found myself in due time and, although it took me down some very strange and winding roads in life, my lack of confidence from my school days is mostly a thing of the past now. I’m a good dad, too. That’s what I’m most proud of.

And I guess that’s what I’ve been trying to get at all along here. You don’t have to ever remember your school days. Just try to be really alert and aware as you send your little ones off. Keep an eye out for the back-to-school blues. And if you think something is up, be the best listener you’ve ever been in your entire life.

Let them know you’re always around. Sometimes it’s all we can do to tell them that. To whisper that one sentence into a freshly shampooed scalp as they’re falling asleep.

“I’m always around for you.”

I have a feeling it can make back-to-school a lot easier.

Or anything for that matter.

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