ZYTARUK: Back-to-school bravery is for the ages

Children have been going back to school since before Plato taught at the academy in Athens. And through the ages, the majority survived.

Students shuffle off to class for attendance at George Greenaway Elementary School on Tuesday morning.

So let it be written.


I’d wake to the sound of howling wind, and snow pelting my bedroom window.

Eyes still closed,  I could see in my mind’s eye the snow drift sloping up against the fence between our house and our neighbour’s. It’d be getting really big by now, I’d think.

This was in Winnipeg, when I was a child, in the dead of winter. It was still pitch black outside, and I was in bed, snuggled under a mountain of quilts. You know that feeling, when you and the blanket are one.

Perfect comfort.

This would soon be replaced with dread, at the prospect of having to get up to go to school.

Ah, geez.

But on occasion, sweet comfort would once again flow over me as I realized it was not a weekday, but Saturday morning.


This week, thousands of children returned to school and are experiencing the anxiety that goes along with the transition. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the known. Psyching themselves up to endure the passive aggressive, the massive aggressive, and everything in between, from schoolmates and in some cases their educators as well.

Heck, even getting to the place is stressful.

My email inbox contains all kinds of back-to-school safety bulletins from police this week, aimed at protecting children pedestrians from idiots who would speed through school zones or text behind the wheel.

And with good reason. The Delta Police’s press release cites ICBC statistics that, on average, 78 children aged five to 18 are injured in traffic crashes in school zones or playground zones every year and 46 of those crashes, on average, happen in the Lower Mainland.

The tips are many, for driver and child alike. Make eye contact, wear your helmet (cyclists), and kids, don’t venture out from between parked cars when crossing the street.

Parents, who are also stressed out from having to suddenly juggle their own work responsibilities with getting their children to school, and settled in, can be the worst offenders. Some school zones, especially at elementary schools, are chaos, sadly resembling Frogger, that arcade game where your task is to dodge traffic hazards.

Transit Police have also offered a top-10 safety tip list for students riding on buses and SkyTrain.

“Make sure you appear confident” is one tip.

Wow. Welcome to the jungle.

Of course, back-to-school anxiety/loathing usually arrives a few weeks before the first week of school, thanks to television advertisements from stores hawking smart attire, pens and other school supplies.

How many children have shrieked “Change the channel!” in the past month, I wonder, when these ads showed up on TV?

All kinds of helpful articles are on the web. Everything these days, it seems, has a disorder attached to it.

Dr. Amy Przeworski has an article in Psychology Today entitled “Back to School and Back to Anxiety.”

In it, she identifies Separation Anxiety Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Selective Mutism as some conditions that are triggered at this time of the year.

Indeed, the whole back-to-school anxiety thing has spawned somewhat of an industry for shrinks.

But the fact is, children have been going back to school, and their parents have been taking them there, since before Plato taught at the academy in Athens. And through the ages, the majority survived.

My mother, bless her heart, is fond of saying “This too shall pass” whenever life chucks a curve ball.

It’s true. In the end, we learn to suck it up. It’s called adapting, and growing.

Still, a little useful help along the way can’t hurt.

Fraser Health’s website offers, in an article written by Ritu Guglani and Helen Edwards, “15 ways you can help your child cope with back-to-school anxiety.”

My favourite is #8: “You can tell your child, ‘Being brave does not mean not fearing. Being brave means overcoming while fearing.”

Sound wisdom, that.


So let it be done.


Tom Zytaruk is a reporter/photographer with the Now. He can be reached via email at tom.zytaruk@thenownewspaper.com

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