We all know that summers here in the Northwoods don’t last nearly as long as they should. With the thoughts of back to school looming, many children and parents face anxieties related to going back to school. Just the simple change in schedules can create feelings of stress and anxiety for some children. Then, the new school year always brings with it a series of unknowns. Kids can have anxiety over who their new teacher(s) will be, over bullying, over their wardrobe and whether their clothes or shoes are “cool” enough. As parents, we have stressors of increased financial burden, babysitting schedules, and the plethora of after school activities.
Simply identifying these stressors and admitting that these stressors affect children is a shift. Change, whether positive or negative, is a highly rated stressor for children. Add in early morning wake-ups, the demands of homework, and balancing after school activities and some days, it is a recipe for stress. Throw in the worries of a parent or parents and it suddenly feels like a volcano about to blow. As parents, we have to worry about juggling, playing taxi services, and fitting in work too. We won’t even talk about what happens if our kids get sick.
The best things we can do to ease the transition back to school for parents and children are to introduce some coping strategies to make your days as stress-free as possible.
- GET ON A SCHEDULE –
Children thrive on routine. Make and KEEP a lights out and electronics off time. Yes, this goes for children and adults. Plan for the next day ahead of time. Create a visual calendar. Prep clothes for the week according to practice, gym, dance, or other schedules. Simply knowing your child’s schedule and planning ahead for it, can reduce anxiety for both of you.
- LIMIT AFTER SCHOOL ACTIVITIES –
Can you feasibly coordinate practice for Kid #1 to get to football every day from 3-5 and Kid #2 to get to dance 3 nights a week, in addition to your work schedule? If this doesn’t work with your schedule because of work, can you coordinate to take turns with another parent? Too many activities for your child may not be worth the amount of commitment or lack of sleep for your child. Make sure you choose activities that create joy, not stress for you and your child or children.
- STAY ORGANIZED –
We have all struggled in the morning with that child that loses one shoe. Or the child that takes forever to get ready. Staying organized and prepping ahead can help alleviate this stress. This can be as simple as designating an area for school bags and shoes, helping your child pack their lunch and pick out their clothes for the next day, the night before. Be creative. Set shower schedules if you have multiple people fighting for one shower in the am.
- REST AND NUTRITION-
We all know that a well-rested child is less cranky and better able to respond to stressful situations instead of throwing themselves into a gelatinous puddle of goo on the floor of Walmart because we are mean and won’t buy them the newest Barbie. Well-rested children are better able to reason and respond to stress in a calm, balanced manner. Nutrition matters too. Sugar, caffeine, or food additives such as coloring or dyes can amp up and give our kids the jitters and should be limited. Starting the day with a good, balanced, and healthy breakfast can help you and your child start the day off right.
- SCHEDULE DOWN TIME-
It doesn’t matter if it is 30 minutes or a whole day, take time out to schedule NOTHING. Use this time to connect with your child or children. Put your work, your stressors, and your worries aside and focus on enjoying your child. Ask them about their day. Take a walk. Put your phones and tablets away. Turn the tv off and tune out the stress of the world. Play a game with your child. These moments are great ways to build relationships with your children and provide much needed stress relief for adults and children.
- RELAXATION TECHNIQUES –
Whether your child is 2 or 15, it is never too early to introduce them to ways to relax. This world is full of stress and children need to learn how to counteract those feelings. Remember, children copy what they see. So, as adults, we must model these stress reducing techniques to teach our children how to decompress. This can be as simple as concentrating on deep breathing. Listening to a soothing sound like the rhythm of the ocean waves rolling in over the shore. It can be taking time to stop and smell the fresh, blooming lupines or other flowers. Talk positively with your children saying your affirmations out load.
These tips will help you, as adults, and help children to face the new school year together, armed with confidence, organization, positive coping skills, and the commitment to create a peaceful transition back to school.
Brandy Craig, MSW, APSW
Outpatient Child Psychotherapist/Inpatient Social Worker
Memorial Medical Services
Behavioral Health Services