Written collaboratively by Kayle Lauck and Rachel Paskewitz under the direction and review of Andrea Bjornestad, Associate Professor & SDSU Extension Mental Health Specialist.
Back to school. Upon hearing those three simple words, what feelings did you experience? For some parents, it may have been relief. It is no secret that, in a lot of cases, summer can seem busier than the school year. Between youth hanging out with friends, attending sports camps and swimming lessons, and spending as much time together as possible, summer flies by. Relief often happens when we know that a sense of routine will be coming back into our schedules – and there is a lot to be said for a good routine. For others, heading back to school often overrides relief, resulting in increased stress. Shopping for school supplies quickly becomes the next priority on the to-do list, and even something as mundane as shopping can provide an unwanted amount of stress.
During the transition back to school, some children and adolescents will be excited to return, while others may experience anxiety or dread. As parents, you may see how the stress levels in your home fluctuate for you and your children. It can be hard to find a steady routine after a few months of summer fun. To manage stressors that your family experiences during this time of transitioning back to school, it is important to focus on healthy ways in which you can make this time a little easier – not only on your kids, but for yourself as well. Heading back to school and the lifestyle that comes with it can be a stressful process, even when it happens every year. Let’s take a look at some tips for managing stress during the transition back to school.
Tips for Managing Stress
Maintain a relaxed demeanor.
- Remaining calm while keeping a relaxed voice, posture and face can put a child’s mind at ease.
- With many responsibilities coming their way, they will continue to look to you for guidance – and, in this case, remember to model a calm, reassuring attitude to help them through this time.
Start the day right with a good breakfast.
- Many studies have shown that the best way for young children to start their day is to have a healthy breakfast. A recent study from the Frontiers of Human Neuroscience found that a good breakfast is critical for good academic performance. Children who consume a healthy breakfast every morning not only see better academic performance, but they are also found to be more active and have better behavioral outcomes.
- The school year is busy and finding time to have a healthy meal in the morning can sometimes be challenging. While ready-to-eat cereals are good breakfast options, some variations in color and ingredients can help breakfast be an even more significant boost for the day. Try some of Create Kids’ Club 50 Back to School Breakfast Ideas, and be sure to include the whole family in meal preparation to benefit from extra time together in the mornings while encouraging independence and choice in your younger children.
Dedicate a study space in your home.
- A dedicated study space may help increase focus during homework and study time during the evenings. Study spaces may include a functional desk area with dedicated drawers or cubbies for children, comfortable seating and good lighting. Other fun additions to a study space could include a calendar, bulletin board, snack corner or speaker.
- Treat your children’s study spaces as you would treat your own workspace. Let the kids pick personalized items for the room and inform them that the space is dedicated to their productivity, just like your area is dedicated to yours.
Communicate plans and events with the whole family.
- With the start of the school year comes many deadlines, activities and dates to track. Your family may benefit from having a family calendar where all activities and dates are listed, so the entire family can see where everyone is during the week.
- A shared online calendar or a simple whiteboard can make tracking activities even more manageable for families with older children.
Create a daily routine.
- The summer always feels less structured than the school year, with evening sports practices, camps and clubs at different times. A benefit to the school year is the structure of the school day. One important thing to remember is that a structured routine at home is good for your children and the whole family. Routines provide children with a sense of security and confidence.
- Families can work together to create routines that work best for them. Including your children in this routine planning is crucial, as it encourages them to think about essential parts of their days that they would like included in their routine. Routines help children feel confident doing activities and chores on their own, and parents may often be surprised at the quickness with which they learn new skills when they are encouraged to do things on their own.
- The most-important part of any routine is a consistent sleep schedule. Elementary-aged children need anywhere from 9 to 12 hours of sleep per night and sleeping consistently less than that can lead to irritability, headaches, mood swings, weight gain, difficulty concentrating and more. As stated before, with the importance of including your children in creating a routine, children will be more receptive to a sleep schedule if they can help design the routine around their bedtimes. The whole family will reap the benefits of a consistent routine and sleep schedule.
Use healthy stress management strategies.
- The first step to managing stress is being able to identify it. Signs of stress may be cognitive (e.g. forgetfulness, lacking focus, poor judgment, pessimism), emotional (e.g. irritability, anger, difficulties relaxing, loneliness, avoidance, anxiety, low self-esteem), physical (e.g. fatigue, aches and pains, headaches, nausea), and behavioral (e.g. sleeping issues, eating issues, procrastination, use of alcohol or drugs).
- It is important to be mindful of any changes you see in your child and encourage healthy stress management strategies. These strategies for children and adolescents can include eating healthy, maintaining a positive attitude, utilizing effective time management, obtaining enough rest and sleep, engaging in hobbies and fun interests, joining clubs or school activities, exercising regularly, listening to music, practicing deep breathing/meditation and journaling.