by Cristin Murray, MA, LPCC
Mental Health Therapist & Development Manager
While back to school can be a very fun and exciting time, changes in schools, teachers, friends and routines can also mean added stress and anxiety for members of your family. Since this transition happens every year, it’s a good idea to seek out some effective strategies to help make things go as smoothly as possible.
Figure out what school days as a family will look like by planning ahead to make sure everyone is on the same page. Children find more security and less worry in knowing who is dropping them off, picking them up, and what will happen when they get home. It is also important to develop a plan for getting homework done and turned in on time. Touch base with teacher’s regularly and set a realistic after school routine such as snack and homework before playtime. Added bonus- routines can benefit adults just as much. Things seem to run more smoothly with everyone on the same page!
Kids often experience feelings of worry and sadness in silence without bringing their concerns to their parents. You may find it helpful to check in with one another, help identify some emotions and talk about some options for the things that are weighing them down. For example, if they are worried about their new classmates, help them brainstorm some fun stories or conversation starters that they could use to connect with new friends. If concerns persist and begin to interfere with social activities or schoolwork, you and your child may benefit from further consult with a mental health professional. While many of your child’s concerns may seem small and trivial, remember that it might not feel that way to them, and a little support upfront can prevent bigger concerns in the future.
As adults, it can be tough to go back to work after a week of vacation, so just imagine what it’s like for kids after having the summer off! It can result in a lot of negative emotions, which is why it’s important to highlight the positives. Remind your children of all of the benefits of school by asking them questions such as “Which friends are you excited to see?” and “What art projects do you think you’ll get to do this year?”. Continuing with similar check ins paired with reinforcing the academic and social progress they are making throughout the school year can help encourage and a maintain positive projection.
Parents, too, have their own worries to track. Planners, checklists, reminders on your phone, whatever works for you for staying on track is important to maintain and can be critical in mitigating unnecessary stress for the whole family. Organization and communication will help minimize stress which is a key factor to being able to support your child (and yourself!) throughout the school year. Staying informed by talking to your child’s teacher or other parents can be a helpful way to stay connected to what is expected at school. Set up a time to meet and figure out a way to communicate that works well for both of you.
Lack of self-care is linked to a host of health problems such as weakened immune system, lack of focus, excess worry, and feelings of depression. Eating healthy, exercising, and sticking to an adequate sleep schedule are just a few of the things we can do to help our brains and bodies repair themselves and function optimally. Taking care of yourself and your family through diet and exercise can make a positive difference in our mood, ability to focus, and how we interact with others. When schedules get packed it is even more important to incorporate hobbies and down time but it often gets pushed to the side more often than we notice. Self-care is a restorative practice that is one of the best defences against stress!
Best of luck to all of the parents, children and teens getting back into the school groove this week!