Back-to-School Guide

We know school is going to look different this year. There’s just no way around it. And COVID-19 can change whatever model we’re returning to school in at a moment’s notice. We know this can be hard on our mental health. So whether you’re returning to school in-person, using a hybrid approach, learning online or being home schooled, we’ve got resources for you to maintain a positive outlook and take on this school year with confidence!

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Addressing Kids’ Fear of Going Back to School

Maybe you’ve already talked to your kids about what this school year will look like. But there are still unknowns, and just like adults, these can make kids fearful. Here are some tips for easing their fears this school year.

Getting Ready to Return to School

This fall's return to the classroom is going to look a littler different than most. To help you and your child manage, our team of behavioral health experts have created resources to help you manage our new normal and the uncertainty around it.

10 Questions to Ask your Child Before School Begins

Use this list of back-to-school conversation starters so you and your child can reflect on the summer and get prepared for the upcoming school year.

Get the Convo Starters

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On Our Sleeves Mental Health Checklist

Back-to-School Mental Health Checklist

Changing schedules. Supply lists. Forms to fill out. New teachers to meet – in person or virtually. This year especially, heading back to school can be exciting, yet stressful.

We’re here to help you get organized and reduce your feelings of anxiety and stress. Use our back-to-school checklist to make sure you and your child start the year off right.

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Helpful Info to Share With Your Teacher

With help from our On Our Sleeves teacher friends and our experts, we’ve created these worksheets to help you be a voice for your child with their teacher this school year. Take the “A Little Bit About Me” worksheet to your teacher so they can get to know your child – and help the year go smoothly.

Download for Elementary Schoolers     Download for Middle Schoolers

On Our Sleeves Elementary School Teacher Tips   On Our Sleeves Middle School Teach Tips
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Masks as Part of the School Uniform

Your child most likely takes a backpack or lunchbox to school every day. Well this year, if they are going to school, they will also take a face mask. Check out tips for preparing your child for wearing a mask throughout their school day and getting used to seeing others, like teachers, in masks.

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How to Prepare Your Child for an Abnormal School Year

Our kids experienced a huge disruption to their routine at the end of last school year, and it’s highly likely that many things will be different once they return. This can cause a great deal of anxiety for various reasons. Some children may be nervous about the unknown structure, while others might be worried about separating from their caregivers after being together all the time. It’s impossible to prepare them for every detail going in to the new year, but there are steps you can take to ease some of the anxiety about going back.

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On Our Sleeves Coronavirus Resource Guide

Every child is impacted in unprecedented ways by COVID-19. The On Our Sleeves Coronavirus Resource Guide has expert mental health advice for kids and parents.

Managing an Uncertain School Year

It always takes children a few weeks to adjust to a new school year, but the transition may be even more difficult this year due to COVID-19. How can you get your child ready for an unconventional school year?

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Helping Kids With Special Needs Adapt

Children with autism, learning disabilities or other special needs are especially impacted by the changes that have come about from COVID-19. Here are a few tips for helping your child with special needs adapt to a new routine, wearing a mask, and more.

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3 Ways to Shift Negative Thinking around COVID-19

This is a really challenging time for families and so we wanted to give you guys some resources on how to cope throughout this time with COVID- 19. We've got 3 tips for you.

Catch Those Z’s

A good night’s sleep impacts everything: feelings, stress levels, how you feel physically, performance at school, sports and other after-school activities and more. Here’s how to make sure your child is getting enough z’s.

  • Develop a regular sleep schedule. Your child should go to bed and wake up at about the same time each day.
  • Maintain a consistent bedtime routine.
  • Set up a soothing sleep environment. Make sure your child’s bedroom is comfortable, dark, cool, and quiet. A nightlight is fine; a television is not.
  • Set limits, such as what time lights must be turned off and how many bedtime stories you will read.
  • Turn off televisions, computers, and radios. 
  • Avoid caffeine.
  • Contact your child’s doctor. Speak to your child’s physician if your child has difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep, snores, experiences unusual awakenings, or has sleep problems that are causing disruption during the day.


Dealing with bullying can make the school year especially hard on children. Learn how to respond to bullying and how you can help others being bullied.

Reduce School Stress

Stress can be good or bad. But either form it comes in can take a toll on us – and our children. What are some ways our children can reduce their stress levels? 

  1. Get enough sleep.
  2. Eat healthy foods.
  3. Move! Exercise helps keep stress at bay.
  4. Relax with hobbies. Make times for the things they love.
  5. Don’t overschedule—allow your children to have time for themselves.
  6. Explore a new place—while practicing social distancing – restaurant, museum, a new park, nature preserve, or tour your city or town via car looking at the different types of architecture or murals and other artwork.
  7. Teach your kids to ask for help when they feel overwhelmed.
  8. Learn how to deal with stress by practicing good coping skills.
    • Try a minute of deep breathing, do Tai Chi, take a nature walk, play with your pet, or try journal writing as a stress reducer.
    • Also, remember to smile and see the humor in life. Research shows that laughter can boost your immune system, ease pain, relax your body and reduce stress.
  9. Quiet your mind and try mindfulness! Relaxation exercises can improve your state of mind and outlook on life. In fact, research shows that meditation may help you feel calm and enhance the effects of other stress reducers like therapy etc.

Take the Stress Out of Tests

Tests can add a lot of stress! But here’s some tips to calm those nerves and have your child perform their best:

  1. Avoid nerves before a test by making sure you get plenty of sleep the night before.
  2. Think positive thoughts! These can rapidly improve your scores. So set aside the negative thoughts, and change them into positive ones. For example: instead of thinking “I will fail,” change the thought to, “I will do my best.”
  3. Avoid test taking nervousness by planning ahead and being prepared. Ask the teacher for a study guide, study with friends, and make sure to review material in a timely manner.
  4. Avoid cramming right before the test. Break down material into sections or chapters. Try focusing on one section per study session until all needed material is covered.
  5. Don't go to the exam with an empty stomach. Fresh fruits and vegetables are often recommended to reduce stress. Avoid stressful foods with high sugar content and processed foods like: pop, potato chips, or candy.
  6. Adding peppermint to your tea or diet can help you feel more awake and aware to do your best on the test. Try a mint while studying and one right before the test to help your brain associate the material you studied to be recalled for the test.
  7. Focus on addressing each question individually. As you take the test, if you don't know an answer, don't obsess over it. Instead, answer the best way you can or skip over the question and come back to it after you've answered other questions.
  8. If you're so nervous that you blank out, you might need a mini-break. Wiggle your fingers and toes, take four or five deep breaths, or picture yourself in a calm place.

Reduce Homework Hassle and Stress

Have you ever had the nightly battle over homework? Here’s six tips to take the hassle out of homework:

  1. Create a quiet space. Let your child choose a quiet place to do their homework. Homework time should be technology-free, meaning no cell-phones or screens unless they are required for the assignment. If you have multiple school-aged children, separating them can also help keep distractions to a minimum.
  2. Make a routine. Creating a simple routine can help your child stay organized and finish their homework.
  3. Lead by example. Be a model of hard work and persistence by making a routine for yourself, too. Work on your own projects or tasks if not helping your kids with their school work. If you are helping with homework, give your full attention and let them know the work matters to you.
  4. Praise rather than reward. Try not to offer rewards for doing homework. Children will come to expect a reward each time and the rewards will lose their power quickly, putting parents in a difficult spot. Instead, praise your child for the behavior you want to encourage. Tell them how proud you are when they are proactive, organized and hardworking:

    “Look how responsible you are, getting your study table organized and ready to go 15 minutes early!”

    “You followed the directions so well. I’m proud of you for taking your time and checking your work.”

    "All of your letters are right between the lines. I bet your teacher won't have any trouble reading this."

  5. Make it your child’s responsibility. As a parent, it’s your job to provide the system and tools your child needs to complete their homework. It’s your child’s responsibility, however, to use them. If you find yourself arguing about homework on a regular basis, it may be time to step back and let your child take ownership of his or her work. Providing guidance and encouragement is important, but don’t prevent your child from feeling the real life consequences of bad choices. Talk with their teacher and let them know what you are experiencing. Work on a plan that will be consistent from school to home, like a daily tracking sheet or message between home and school.

  6. Provide guidance, not answers. : If your child says "I can't do it," respond by saying, "The most important thing is to try your best. We can work it out together." Homework is supposed to be challenging at times. If your child says “I can’t do it,” respond by saying, “Act like you can.” Tell your child to take a deep breath, collect their thoughts and find the confidence to figure it out on their own. Your goal should be to help them help themselves. If they continue to struggle, you can help by asking questions such as:

    “What do you understand?”

    “What do you think the answer might be?”

    “How can you find out?”

  7. Structure homework time to balance subjects they feel more or less confident with. If math is their most difficult subject, start with that and say, "We're going to work on getting part of this done, then we'll do something else and come back to finish it." If they want to continue after the first section, praise them for their determination.

Responsible Social Media Usage

Back to school is a good time to have a conversation with kids about responsible social media use. Share these tips with your kids:

  • Review Before You Post: Regardless of the purpose of the content or who they are trying to reach, ask them to consider whether the post could offend someone. What may be funny or entertaining to one person, may be hurtful to someone else.
  • Think Before You Reshare: Teach kids where they can find trusted resources and not to share from accounts that may spread incorrect or hurtful information.
  • Consider Privacy: It is important for kids to know that once something is shared on the internet, they cannot undo it. That means they lose all rights to their own privacy and they forfeit the rights of other people tagged in their posts or featured in their photos or videos.
  • Be an Advocate: If children see something offensive online, encourage them to take action. Teens can use tools provided by social media channels, while younger children should be instructed to talk to a trusted adult who can report the content. Simply ignoring the content is not a safe alternative and should be discouraged.
  • Advice on Monitoring: Many parents choose to occasionally monitor social media accounts and keep the password so they can log in to check activity. This is appropriate throughout childhood and adolescence. At minimum, parents can choose to have their own social media accounts and insist that they are connected with their children to see what is being posted or shared. The more active and informed parents are, the more guidance they can give their children.

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