Back to School: Emotion Check-Ins with Families

Back to School: Emotion Check-Ins with Families

28 July 2022 • Words by Erica Marcus 2 mins

Heading back to school can be such a whirlwind experience for the whole family, and our emotional landscape falls predictably in line with such a huge transition. Kids and adults alike may experience the full spectrum of emotions, even at the same time: excitement, nervousness, hope, dread, elation, fear, etc., etc. 

Sometimes, we feel like it’s our job as parents to make the hard feelings go away. We try to convince our kids (and ourselves) through logic all the reasons that the return to school is good: You get to see your friends every day! You get to get out of the house! You get to see your favorite art teacher! While natural, this response can be invalidating. It suggests that our kids shouldn’t have any mixed feelings, and should find reasons to feel differently than they do. 

Instead, we can have emotional check-ins with our kids to validate the full spectrum of feelings and reactions they may be having. Psychiatrist and author Dan Siegel famously coined the phrase “Name it to tame it,” meaning that just by naming and talking about our emotions we can take some of their intensity away. Modeling with our own emotions can help normalize this process and allow kids to share to whatever extent they want. Even if they say nothing, you have given them space to think about how they’re feeling. There are all sorts of fun structures to do this as a family—feel free to use these suggestions as starters, and then invent your own!

Back to School: Emotion Check-Ins with Families

Weather report

What is your internal weather system saying about going back to school? Are you feeling cloudy? Sunny? Windy? Hurricane-y? (You can be creative here and use anything as a metaphor: colors, animals, food, etc.)

Body check

What are you feeling in your body right now? For younger kids or those newer to this, you might offer specific body parts: Is your heart beating fast or slow? Is your breath shallow or deep? Are your muscles tense or relaxed? Do your arms feel heavy or light? Try the Moshi Meditation, Hocus’s Tin Man Body Scan, to become aware of how your body is feeling.

Rose, Thorn, Bud

What’s happening that makes you feel good (rose), that feels challenging (thorn), and that you are looking forward to (bud)?

Highs and lows

What was the best and worst part of your day?

Mind Broom

What negative thoughts are in your mind that won’t go away? Try the Moshi Meditation, Dewy’s Mind Broom, to sweep away negative thoughts.

These check-ins can fit well into mealtime routines or the drive home from those first few days of school. You can keep them up for the whole year to encourage your kiddos’ development of emotional literacy and keep in touch with what’s going on in their internal world! 

Erica Marcus

Erica Marcus, MAT, founded Wise Minds. Big Hearts. in 2015 to bring mindfulness programming to students, families, and schools around New England. She now has the honor of applying that breadth of experience to her work with WholeSchool Mindfulness, working towards systemic change within a single educational institution. You can read more about her work at She is the author of two books: Attention Hijacked: Using Mindfulness to Reclaim Your Brain from Tech Daily Mindful Minis: Tiny Mindfulness Practices for the Fourth Trimester