The sun is setting earlier. There’s a nip in the evening air. Friday nights are spent cheering on the local high school teams. Leaves are starting to display their glorious show of fall colors. And, the kids are back to school. That’s right, fall is here. If your child loves school, you’re probably content to sit back and enjoy that first pumpkin spice latte of the year. But if your kid is stressed out by the mere mention of the S-word—you know…school—you’re probably stressed out as well. Here are some practical tips on how to manage your kid’s back to school stress.
Why Are Kids Stressed Out by School?
First, you might be wondering why so many of today’s kids are stressed out by school. You look back at your school days with fond memories of recess and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
The fact is that kids today have issues to contend with that we never faced. They are anxious over everything from social media taunting to schoolyard bullies to the all too familiar threat of school shootings. They see police officers in the schools, walk through metal detectors, and some even have their bookbags checked for weapons. It’s a very different world from when we grew up.
Signs of Back-to-School Stress
Some children can’t relay the feeling of stress to their parents. They are young and either have never felt stress so don’t know what this funny feeling is, or they don’t have the language skills to express it. As the parent, you must look for the telltale signs of stress.
When you discuss school, a kid who has back to school stress may display the following symptoms:
- Throwing temper tantrums
- Saying he or she has a tummy ache
- Loss of sleep or rest
- Mood swings or aggressive behavior
- Closed off or very quiet
- Suddenly doesn’t like their friends
Now that you know the signs to watch out for, read on to learn what to do to help your child manage this stress.
Managing Back-to-School Stress
1-Ask the Right Questions
As a parent, you know that if you ask a yes or no questions, you’ll most likely receive a yes or no answer. You should ask your child open-ended questions that lead her into a conversation that will help you to problem solve.
Make her feel comfortable in answering the questions. As much as you have a sharp protective instinct, don’t drill her for answers. That will only make her feel like she’s the problem. Instead, make her opinions and feelings valued so that she feels like part of a solution.
2-Put on Your Listening Ears
How many times have you told your little one to put on his “listening ears?” Now, it’s your turn! When you are having that difficult conversation and asking those open-ended questions, listen to your child’s responses. Take her concerns seriously.
You might follow up with more questions and uncover a bully in the cafeteria, a teacher assigns a heavy workload or a fear of the school environment itself. Respond with empathy, restate the concerns, and come up with an action plan to help your child through this stress.
3-Off to Bed Earlier
Think back to a time when you were sleep-deprived. You probably didn’t handle stress very well. In fact, you might have blown minor issues up into huge problems, became overly sensitive, or over-reacted in some way due to lack of sleep.
Your child is no different! When she doesn’t get sufficient sleep, she can’t manage dealing with stress. In fact, many parents are surprised to learn that The Sleep Foundation recommends 9 to 11 hours of sleep every night for school-aged children aged 6 to 13. In fact, they also recommend 8 to 10 hours for teenagers up to age 18.
So, stick with a calm evening routine of homework, supper, family time, early to bed to allow your child to get the shut-eye they need in order to deal with those daily stressors.
4-Limit Electronic Device Access
If you’ve determined that your child’s fear of the school environment in general due to the sad news stories today, limit his electronic access. After a tragedy, the media cranks up the coverage and kids are exposed to the sad news. Whether they watch television or play games on a tablet or smartphone, the headlines are splashed everywhere.
Limiting electronic device access is a way to cut off that exposure, at least temporarily. It will let his mind get quiet more easily.
5-Set Realistic Expectations
Some kids are stressed not because of the world around them, but by the pressure they feel get good grades and be the best at everything. We all want our kids to excel. However, some kids can’t handle being overscheduled. If your child is juggling school, sports, music or dance lessons, and playing with friends, he has a pretty heavy load!
This type of stress comes when children feel that they have to be the best and most accomplished. Whether you ever set that type of lofty goal or not, your child wants to impress you. Reassure your child that you are pleased with him doing the very best that he can. Let him know that you are not going to be disappointed if he needs to cut back on extracurricular activities. If your child is still stressed by these self-imposed expectations, encourage him to cut back on the least important social activity until he’s a little bit older. Then, when he’s better equipped to handle it, he can try again.
The world today is crazier for our kids than it was for us. After all, this is a generation with so much emphasis on “fitting in” that many have caved in to peer pressure and eaten laundry pods! It’s a generation of selfies and phones capturing embarrassing moments and immediately uploading them for the world to see. Your child will learn to manage stress, but only with your help. Follow these tips on how to manage back to school stress, and you’ll both be on the right path.