Beat Back-to-School Stress with Just a few Easy Steps!
As the new school year approaches, many children (and parents too!) feel the strain of back-to-school stress. It’s not to say that feeling anxiety about the upcoming year isn’t normal. In fact, some stress response is appropriate considering the advent of a busier routine with earlier nights, chaotic mornings, more difficult homework, and rushing to extra-curricular activities all the while managing new relationships between teachers, friends, coaches and the like.
Although butterflies in the tummy about going back-to-school can be normal, it’s not to say that the transition will be easy. Here are a few tips to starting the new year off with ease:
Start Early: Early to bed, early to rise! Let’s face it, the summer months leave parents opportunity to be less structured with bedtime. Even though it’s tempting to put off enforcing bedtime until the very last minute, re-establishing the school night bedtime before the last night of summer will allow the child to get back into his or her old sleep pattern in time for school to start. Adequate rest makes getting up on the first morning easier and allows the child to be alert and feel good about the day ahead.
Plan a Practice Round: If your child will be attending a new school all together, plan a school visit and meet the child’s teacher(s) if possible. Showing the child where he or she will be going the first day and introducing the child to their teacher(s) will establish some familiarity and help to eliminate some fear of the unknowns when walking into school the first day.
Focus on the Positive (and Normalize the Negative): Attitude is everything! Your child typically takes their cue from you, if you focus on the positive aspects of school, like seeing old friends, often your child will follow suit. When your child brings up fears about school, like “I don’t know if my teacher will like me”, normalize the child’s feelings with a reflection: “Meeting new people can be a little scary at first, but I think you will start to feel comfortable around her once you get to know each other”.
Let the Child Have Some Control: Often we feel the least anxious when we feel we are in control. Allowing the child to have some control over the first day will reduce anxiety. For instance, allowing them to pick out what they will wear the first day, or allowing them to decide some of the items that will be packed in their lunch, lead to increased positive feelings about the day ahead.
Involve Your Child: Engage your child with all of the preparation needed in getting them off to a successful start. As much as a parent may fear a temper tantrum or a fight in public over the back to school necessities, involving your child in the shopping will help them take ownership and create excitement of the new clothes they will wear and the new supplies they will get to use. Having some back-to school shopping rituals give the child something to look forward to rather than dreading what mom and dad have picked out for them. If you are concerned with an embarrassing disagreement in the store, plan ahead and involve the child in making a mutually agreed upon list so any disagreements are worked out in the home rather than the store.
Create Routines: Establishing a daily routine is a great way to help children adjust. If may also be helpful for the child to have a visual aid to go along with their routine (such as a chart for a young child and a planner for an older child). Routines help the child to stay organized and may eliminate anxiety regarding where the child should be and when, especially if he child goes to various after-school events and when those other than you are picking up your child. Try not to overschedule your child and allow at least one “free day” when the child has nothing scheduled after school. Hopefully this will afford extra time with you (the parent) or for some simple relaxation to reduce the stress of over-commitment.
Stay Involved, but not Overly Involved: Showing up to the school’s “open house”, PTA meetings, and participating in school events and helping with homework demonstrate your value and commitment to their education. Your child will often adopt your commitment to their academic life if you model it for them. Ally yourself with the teacher and ask for communication if there is a problem. Try not to assume the worst when you barrage your child with questions, such as “How was school? What did you learn? Who are your friends?” and the response is minimal. Encourage your child to talk as you show interest, but follow their lead. Assume all is well unless you drastic emotional and behavioral changes are evident and your child’s teacher is concerned. If you expect your child to do well, he or she will usually rise to the occasion!
Be Proactive if Concerns Arise: If unwarranted anxiety persists or other social, emotional or behavioral challenges emerge throughout the year, seek a qualified therapist to assist your child with his or her symptoms.