The start of the school year is an overwhelming time for parents and children alike – and it can be especially hard on those who are struggling with stress and anxiety. As a parent, you’re dealing with a hectic schedule and new morning and evening routines. There are times when it seems next to impossible to juggle work, caring for younger children, and getting the kids to and from school and extracurriculars, while still managing household chores and other personal matters.
For students, school signals the beginning of new teachers, new classmates, and unfamiliar course material. Even if they’re excited, that excitement is often accompanied by nerves or anxiety. Younger children may initially experience separation anxiety or trouble adapting to the classroom environment. For middle and high-school aged students, challenging homework and tests are only two of the many stressors they’ll face every day.
The stress of the back-to-school transition can take its toll on families, but it doesn’t have to be. Below are five tips for a less stressful school year:
Make sure you manage your own stress and anxiety. Children easily pick the moods and behaviors that their parents model, for better or for worse. If you’re totally frazzled and stressed every morning getting the kids ready for school, your children also will likely feel stressed out before school even begins. Try to remain as calm and as positive as you can, even during stressful situations.
It is also important to avoid burnout from trying to “do it all.” Continue to take care of yourself with a healthy diet, regular exercise, and good sleep. Now is not the time to neglect these areas of your life. No matter how busy you are, ignoring your own health will always lead to more stress.
Keep communication open with your kids. Talk to your children about their school day experiences, and regularly remind them that they can come to you with any problems or concerns. Acknowledge your children’s’ feelings about school, whether they love it or dread going. Ask them about their days and what they’re learning, but don’t expect to get every last detail out of them. Even if they don’t talk much, kids benefit from just knowing their parents are interested in their lives.
At times, pre-teens and teens may seem more focused on the social aspect of school than academics, but this usually isn’t cause for concern. Try to recall your own school experience — navigating the social waters in school is complicated! This is a time when students are learning valuable lessons not only from teachers and textbooks, but also from the interpersonal relationships they form with their peers.
Allow children the room to make mistakes. Your kids are learning and growing every day, and this means they are going to make mistakes sometimes. Accepting this, rather than working tirelessly to prevent it from happening, frees you from the anxiety of holding impossible expectations. It also frees your kids from the pressure of living with the expectation of perfection. We’ve all heard the term “helicopter parent,” which describes a parent who hovers and tries to completely manage their child’s life. Staying engaged and advocating for your child is important, but trying to fix everything for them inhibits them from learning independence and problem-solving skills.
Keep the academic pressure in check. Academic stress is an unavoidable reality of school, and at the start of the school year, there’s usually an adjustment period while students get used to studying and doing homework again. Of course, you should expect your child to work hard and embrace learning, but piling on the academic pressure usually does more harm than good. Rather than thinking of your child’s education and a quest for perfection on every paper and test, try to think of school an ongoing learning process, during which will they will struggle at times and excel at other times.
Do not ignore signs of bullying. It is sad that it needs to be said, but parents today should read up on the current bullying problem affecting schools in the age of text messaging and social media, and keep a lookout for the signs. Bullying concerns — whether your child complains of being bullied or is accused of being a bully — should be taken very seriously, and must be addressed with the school administration.