Do you remember the nervous excitement of going back to school after the long summer break? Sharpening your pencils the night before with your uniform ready for the big day ahead, butterflies in your stomach? The new school year is a momentous occasion in a child’s life, and can be a stressful time too. As kids launch into school full of new ideas, leaping out the door each morning full of energy, they are bombarded with another world that impacts their home life and whole being as they grow and develop. Older, and possibly wiser, parents can guide kids through the sometimes stressful, fast running waters of the new school year.
Be aware of back-to-school stresses
The image of an idyllic childhood involves carefree days with friends and a time of innocence and wonder. However, the fact is that youngsters are learning, absorbing and dealing with new information in their lives on a daily basis. When they start back at school the immense changes this brings can create pressures which parents need to be aware of, such as:
- Bullying at school.
- Coping with new subjects and a higher academic level.
- Anxiety about friendships and teachers.
- Being in a new environment outside of their comfort zone.
- Pressure to achieve.
- General challenges involved in growing up and changing as a person.
For parents there are stresses too, such as adjusting schedules, paying for back-to-school supplies and for some, the anxiety of a child being outside of their care and in an environment where their input is limited.
10 back-to-school tips for parents
If you set a good precedent at the start of the school year then you should find as a family that you communicate better and your kids have coping mechanisms in place to rise to the challenges of school life far more easily. Here are 10 tips to help beat back-to-school stress:
- Listen: Been there done that? It is easy to disregard the fears and anxieties of kids as just being all part and parcel of the rite of passage of growing up. What might be a small issue to you can be magnified in the mind of your child. Do not try to talk kids out of their feelings- instead listen to what they have to say. Knowing they can talk to you and you will listen can sometimes be all they need.
- Create a stress-free morning routine: On a practical level you can dissipate stress by making mornings run smoothly so that you and your kids do not go out into the world with nerves jangling, already feeling upset and frayed at the edges. While you do not necessarily have to take the boot camp approach, being organized is key when you are trying to get ready and out the door to beat the clock. Wall charts or laminated cards with morning tasks clearly marked can help. Do what you can the night before, such as making lunches and getting kids to pack their schoolbags.
- Talk about the school day: You might prefer not to take your work home with you, but it is important to create distraction-free family time where you can talk about the day your kids have had. Family mealtimes can be a great opportunity, or an after-school walk, away from computers, phones and television. Ask questions but be conscious of not patronizing your child, or they will just come back with rote-style answers they think you want to hear.
- Chat about friends and teachers: Friendships are forged, alliances are broken and the teachers your kids felt comfortable with can be replaced by a whole new set of adults and strangers. School is a microcosm of the world at large, and learning about relationships is a big part of the educational experience. Get to know the names and characters of those close to your child and encourage them to chat openly about the people they come across at school. These relationships can be a source of joy as well as stress for kids as they learn about themselves through them, so your understanding and interest is vital.
- Encourage self-confidence: It is natural that parents feel protective and anxious when they see their child coping with a difficult situation or facing a challenge at school. The new school year can be a daunting prospect for many youngsters, and your role as a parent is to not just reassure but to inspire a feeling in kids that they can and will cope. Encouraging strength is very different than just telling kids to toughen up, however it is also important to at times trust your child to handle difficulties themselves.
- Show empathy: The more you listen and allow youngsters to freely express themselves, the more likely they are to confide in you any feelings they have about going back to school or problems they have during the school year. As much as you might want to try to ‘fix’ their problem, you also need to show that you can understand their perspective. Empathizing can help them move forward and let go of stress. Often, simply voicing worries is enough.
- Ask for help if it is needed: As a parent it can be useful to have a good relationship with teachers, staff and the school community, so that if there are any problems at school for your child or yourself you can get the help you need. Perhaps you are having trouble paying the extra tuition for certain subjects or your child needs support in dealing with a more emotional concern. Being familiar with the appropriate school personnel can make getting help easier.
- Talk about the future school year: Youngsters are often worried about going back to school because of the uncertainty that the future holds. After all, it is the great unknown. What does your child expect to happen in the next year? What are his or her hopes, fears and dreams? Create positive feelings about the year to come. Once children start to get excited about the future they can more easily let go of their current anxiety.
- Talk about the past school year: With any transition there is that period when the comfort of the past disappears, which in itself can be a fairly stressful experience. For youngsters changing schools or even classes, there will quite often be a natural inclination to cling to what they know. As well as talking about the future and acknowledging how a child feels right now as school starts, chat about what they loved about the last school year too. What will they miss? What will they be glad to let go?
- Teach problem solving: There is a difference between telling children that they need to work stuff out for themselves and actually teaching them how to solve problems. You could try explaining to them about a time when you faced a certain challenge and how you overcame any obstacles and anxieties, setting an example for them of self-efficacy.
Keep back-to-school stresses at bay by maintaining lines of communication with your kids. This will help you understand their world a little better and help soothe their stresses when that world becomes a little shaky at times. And, if you need a little extra help, booking a session with one of our counselors could be a big help. Contact us today to learn more.