Amid the back to school excitement, kids — and parents — may feel anxious or uncertain about facing new experiences.
With a new school year comes questions: Will my child be safe at school? How can I limit the distraction of electronics? And is it possible to save money on back-to-school costs?
For answers, TODAY turned to Dr. Argie Allen-Wilson, the author of "Courageous Conversations Connect" and the founder and CEO of F.A.I.T.H. Inc. (Family and Individual Therapeutic Healing) and NBC News Senior Consumer Investigative Reporter Vicky Nguyen for their expert takes.
How can parents discuss school safety with my child?
When it comes to school emergencies, parents should enforce their past reminders.
"You really have to trust the skills you’ve already imparted on your children," Allen-Wilson told TODAY. "Tell them to go to the helpers. ... kids have phones, so make sure they have your number on speed dial."
Teaching children to self-regulate their emotions (deep breathing, for example) can help when they feel panicked.
"Don’t let the adrenaline and fear overtake (you)," said Allen-Wilson.
Parents can prepare their children in advance of a crisis.
"A good exercise could be watching a movie centered around the topic, and using that as a tool to open up the conversation with your child about how they would handle the situation," said Allen-Wilson.
Listening is as important as teaching.
"Parents tend to talk quite a bit, and we don’t create space for the dialogue and that’s what we want: open communication," notes Allen-Wilson. "We want our kids to share how they’re feeling."
"Ultimately, kids need structure, consistency, and predictably," she said. "So anything the parent can say that aids those things, are key."
Having kids memorize a short and simple safety plan tailored to their individual circumstances is good.
"Give them 3 specific, short, and concise steps to follow in an emergency," said Allen-Wilson. "These are hard conversations to have. But we have to process the hard stuff and be a good listener for our kids."
How can parents help children adjust to a new school?
Whatever jitters a child is experiencing are magnified when they're heading to a new school.
"Humans tend to have difficulty with change, adjustment, and adapting," said Allen-Wilson. So when discussing your child's fears, focus on new possibilities and opportunities.
Allen-Wilson relies on the "four Ps."
"Pace, Place, Possibilities, Perspective," she said. "What place do you imagine you’ll be in the new school? What are the different perspectives and possibilities? What will the new pace be in this environment?"
Talking through these buzzwords helps students process their emotions.
According to Allen-Wilson, these conversations may take time, so parents should adopt another "P": patience.
How can parents manage electronics at home so kids can focus on schoolwork?
"Set up tech-free zones," suggested Allen-Wilson.
Parents can include children when creating rules.
"Hopefully (kids) come up with (something) themselves, but if not, parents should help them focus on a new way of 'being' in the house," said Allen-Wilson, offering ideas like tech-free dinners or car rides.
Pro-tip: Anytime you remove a privilege, enhance what's left.
"Those times should be substituted with something else: physical activity, homework time or meals with family," she said.
Parents might be inspired by their own childhood bedrooms.
"Don’t hesitate to go back to the basics," said Allen-Wilson. "Make children's bedrooms tech-free" or set up a specific time when cell phones are prohibited. If it means using an old-fashioned alarm clock in the morning instead of a cell phone alarm, so be it.
"Kids won’t like it, but none of us like everything about our job," said Allen-Wilson. "It's about helping your family function well and be the healthiest they can be."
How can parents manage anxiety around the potential for school shootings and other emergencies?
Parents should lean on each other, Allen-Wilson tells TODAY.com. "It’s not good to hold onto nervous energy, but rather share those fears with others who understand."
Building a community of positive and like-minded parents matters, says Allen-Wilson. "Don’t have a confidant that fuels those fears."
How can parents make a child's first school bus trip successful?
Be present as much as possible. If you have time, follow the bus in your car a few times during the first week of school, so your children feel secure.
If you are excited about new challenges, your children might be, too.
"Children take their cues from whoever is in their immediate environment, so normalize the fear," says Allen-Wilson, who suggests that parents share their own school bus memories.
"Parents can create a connection and alignment with kids if they hear about a fear their mom or dad once had, but was able to overcome," she says. "(Acknowledge that) their fear is there, but (how to) grow through it (so) it feels more comfortable. And once it’s done, process it. Ask them how that went? How do they feel about it now?"
How can parents score deals or rebates on back-to-school shopping?
Try "deal stacking" aka, maximizing savings with various deals, Vicky Nguyen, senior consumer investigative correspondent for NBC News, told TODAY.
Here are Nguyen's suggestions:
Apps like Ibotta, Rakuten and RetailMeNot are solid cash-back and coupon code options. While technology like ID.me allows students to use a verified digital ID card to access various government benefits and services.
For savings on back-to-school clothes, go the second-hand route. ThredUP, Mercari and Poshmark let people buy and sell once-loved clothing.
Save on books or textbooks with the BookScouter app, through which users can sell, buy or even rent books. The app lets you compare prices across various vendors, so you land the cheapest deal.
How can parents find help with homework or tutoring services, for free?
The Khan Academy is a non-profit with a "mission to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere," according to its website. With classes in math, science, computer programming, economics and the arts, there's help for every subject, including test prep, for all grade levels.
Seek help from a teacher in training. "If you live in a town with a lot of colleges, contact the school's college of education to see if they (offer) any formal tutoring programs through which your child is paired up with a student teacher," said Nguyen.
Nguyen suggested that parents also visit local libraries or organizations like the YMCA or the Boys & Girls Club to ask whether they offer free tutoring services. "If they don't offer (them), they are a great start nonetheless to help point you in the right direction," said Nguyen.
What programs or resources can help subsidize school costs?
Nguyen points to EveryoneOn, which helps people from under-resourced communities receive internet access, computers and even tech training.
The United Way or The Salvation Army often offers back-to-school drives, says Nguyen.
Look for used or refurbished electronics on sites like Back Market, Swappa or eBay, says Nguyen. And don't overlook places like Amazon, Best Buy or Apple for the same.
CORRECTION (Aug. 30, 2023 at 10:29 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled a resale's company name. It is ThredUP, not ThreadUp.