Overcoming Back-to-School Stress
School may already in full swing, but there’s a good chance that your child – or even yourself – are still experiencing some stress as you both reacclimate to the academic and social pressures of being in class.
First off, understand that this is so normal that it’s almost abnormal not to experience some sort of stress related to school – and that includes preschool or daycare.
Second, there are several things you can do to help alleviate those pressures and make your child’s transition back to class a successful and happy one.
With that in mind, let’s look at some tips that are universally recognized by psychologists and mental health professionals as positive methods in dealing with any school-related anxiety or concerns – for kids and parents.
- First, look to yourself
Kids, no matter their age, take a lot of their psychological cues from their parents. And if you’re stressed out (over anything) and are showing visible signs of it, your children will pick up on it and could well become stressed themselves. Therefore, it is imperative that you find a way to handle your own anxieties before – otherwise it is unrealistic to expect your kids to be able to suddenly deal with theirs. With that said, you can also help decrease your entire family’s stress by not over-committing. We expect our kids to be busy all the time but running them all over town (and sometimes out of town) to various practices, events, and gatherings can add to your stress levels. And sometimes it is a good thing to just relax and have an afternoon of nothing.
- Be positive
Remember how your kids pick up on your moods? If you are outwardly enthusiastic about school, preschool or daycare, your kids are sure to pick up on it. This could help them turn from nervous to excited. And you can also develop some fun family traditions or rituals that you stick to at the start of every school year – like a special breakfast on the first day or going to school with a big group that includes friends.
- Take your kids seriously – and listen
If your child expresses concerns about going back to school or dealing with school in general or a specific situation at school – teachers, friends, sports, homework – do not brush it off with a flippant (even if positive), “everything will be fine.” Instead, take the time to listen earnestly. Let them tell you their fears, often that alone will make them feel better. If you want to go a step further, after listening, sit down and help them try to figure out a solution. Above all, however, remember that your kids are coming to you for validation, not necessarily immediate solutions. You can assure that by saying things like, “I know this situation is difficult/hard.” It is also a good idea to avoid leading questions, such as “are you concerned that science is going to be too hard this year?” And don’t expect them to gush forth with information. It may take them some time to open up, and don’t get frustrated or press for more if they don’t immediately elaborate. They will talk with you when they are ready, and you can foster that with just a few quick questions and short conversations.
- Set out your expectations – and a plan
Before school, preschool or daycare starts it is a good idea to set your expectations about their preparations. In other words, let them know what time they need to be up, have eaten, dressed, groomed, and ready to go. It will help them to understand what they need to do and provides them with some structure and responsibility. Even after school has already started, you can do this. Just talk with them on a Sunday to set out the week ahead. If you want a special touch, you can add a positive note in your child’s backpack or lunchbox to help them through the day. You should also set up a family calendar where all activities and important assignment due dates are easy to spot. You can also set out school bags and clothes as part of a look ahead to the next day. A to-do list for your children, one which must be completed each day, can be helpful as well.
- Figure out homework plans
Speaking of plans, you should also discuss and map out when and where your chidren will compete their daily homework. It does not really matter where, just make it a comfortable and accessible spot where they do it at the exact same time every day (that they have homework).
- Make being a friend a priority
One of the biggest fears about going back to school or the early weeks of school usually centers around finding new friends, especially for younger students or any student after a move. Reconnecting with old friends can also be a stressor, especially for older students after a summer apart – even through the digital age, when they can interact on social media, reconnecting in person is different. Making friends is a skill, however, and you can impart that to your kids. Let them know that the more they do it and attempt it, the easier it will get. Help them learn. How to introduce themselves and talk so that you can find common ground with a potential new friend. Remind them to be careful with jokes, as these can easily hurt feelings if not done correctly. Empathy is the top priority in being a good friend. And teach them to never tolerate bullying of any kind (between strangers, friends, siblings, or cyberbullying).
- Keep an open dialogue with the school
If you know your child is experiencing problems at or in preparation for school, preschool, or daycare, it is a good idea to talk with someone at the school/facility and let them know that your child may need a little extra support. Make sure you let the school official (teacher, aide, psychologist, counselor, etc.) know that your child is excited and will eventually be fine but that it may take some time to settle in. Stay involved with your child’s school and have regular communication with the teachers even if it’s over email. It is important to always be aware of your child’s academic, social, and behavioral advancement.
- Dealing with separation anxiety
If you have ever had to leave your child behind at school, preschool, or daycare while they cry for you to come back – it just hurts, there’s no way around it. The good news is that kids are resilient, and they likely bounce back within seconds or minutes of you being gone from sight. That means you should try your best to ignore at least some of their separation fears/reactions. However, if they continue to have significant issues weeks into the school year – or if it begins to affect their performance in school – you should perhaps investigate help from a mental health professional. That said, you can also give them praise when they show bravery in order to encourage fearlessness.
- Tackle physical symptoms (i.e., stomachache, headache)
Sometimes school-related stresses and concerns can lead to physical ailments, including headaches and stomachaches – which mostly come about in the mornings before school. If that begins happening to your child, the first thing you should do is go to a doctor to make sure that it is not the sign of something physically wrong them. More than likely, it is a physical reaction to anxiety, however. If so, it is important to get to the bottom of why it is happening. It could be a reaction to bullying or separation anxiety. Or it could be that they are dealing with academic problems and feel embarrassed due to an undiagnosed issue such as a learning disorder that makes it hard for them to keep up. Whatever it is, you should be aware and talking with school officials to help in getting to the bottom of it. Know that if these physical ailments become persistent, your child is likely looking for reasons to avoid school or leave early. This is called “school refusal.” If you reach this stage, this is another instance where you should contact a mental health professional, as missing any length of time at school can prove hugely detrimental to their academic and social development.
It’s not always easy being a parent. Let’s face it, there are even instances when it’s downright disheartening. But there are many more times when it is wonderful, affirming, and the best job you’ll ever have, as you get to watch your child navigate their own world and grow into the people you hope them to be. But it takes hard work and dedication to maintain that path, and sometimes you need a helping hand. There is absolutely nothing wrong in seeking support.
At Rainbow Children’s Home, we have spent years shaping an approach designed to produce positive outcomes for teenaged women. And one of the goals of Rainbow Children’s Home is to help those adolescents understand how to cope with trauma, including severe anxiety and personal trauma.
The young women that Rainbow Children’s Home mentors, nurtures and allows to shine have faced difficult times in their young lives, but we see every day the resilience and spirit yearning to burst forth and capture their place in this world. It is our task to provide them with the safe and nurturing environment that allows them to take flight and discover their own path forward.
You can further the mission of Rainbow Children’s Home by donating today. To find out how to donate or engage in other ways, visit Rainbowchildrenshome.org.