Back to School: Remember Stress Comes In Different Sizes

It surprises me the number of people (including my own husband) that don’t realize how stressful the start of a school year is for students. Whether it is the first day of kindergarten or moving into a dorm as a freshman in college, kids facing change have stress that is big to them.

Just like learning to walk, talk or read, learning to face change is a learned skill that comes with a developmentally appropriate level of stress. I’ve heard some adults say, “You’re just a kid - what do you have to worry about?” Well, they have LOTS to worry about…starting school is like an adult starting a new job. They have a new boss (teacher), new co-workers (classmates) and a new office (classroom) which may be in a new building with new transportation, new food and new rules. There is an adjustment period here that should be considered…they will adapt quickly, but as parents we can help them.

First, remember that they have been working hard all day to sit quiet, listen, focus, perform and impress. So when they get home kids might need to let loose. Especially within the first couple weeks of school, they may act out more at home because they have kept it in all day! Most kids will show their best behaviors to others and save the worst for mom…because they know you will love them anyway. However, this does not mean let them get away with breaking rules or putting up with rude behavior. This does not mean you should lighten their load by doing their homework. Just remember to be a little more patient, and spend a few more minutes helping them navigate their new routines. Then, once routines are established, you will be able to sit back and watch them flourish.

Some Back-To-School Tips:

  • START NOW!
  • Make sure all the school paperwork and registrations are done and mark the calendar with school dates.
  • Get the supplies they need (don’t complain about it - they are excited about them).
  • Gradually get them into a sleep routine before the first week of school.
  • Attend orientation or walk through the building to help ease anxiety.
  • Manage YOUR stress, don’t share it.
  • Stay positive!!!!!!! It makes kids worry more if they see you worry.
  • Kids are perceptive and have good ears…so remember you are talking TO them when you are speaking around them.
  • Remember they will vent to you - don’t try to solve all their problems and don’t get fired up about something until you know it is a true issue.
  • Establish routines. Kids thrive on structure. Routines help eliminate stress.
  • Provide them with good food - family dinners at the table whenever possible and plenty of sleep.
  • Stop overscheduling! Put play back into their schedule. Kids need downtime to rejuvenate.
  • Make mornings calmer.
  • Prepare as much as you can the night before, lay out clothes, prepare backpack, etc. Mornings can set the tone for the day.
  • Talk and listen (don’t interrogate).
  • Ask your child about what they are looking forward to and what they might feel nervous about. Listen and remind them of their past accomplishments.
  • Tell them you know what they’re going through and that you will be there to help them.
  • When you have one-on-one time (driving, dinner, bathtime, bedtime) use an open ended question to learn about their day. Ask them to tell you about a specific class, who they ate lunch with or what story they read. Let a question lead the conversation and then listen.

And finally…let them figure it out. Don’t micromanage what they do - your job is to raise an independent person. Let them know that they SHOULD make mistakes! (newsflash - your kid is not perfect). Inform them that their teachers expect to see mistakes. If you aren’t making mistakes then you aren’t trying. Tell them that they are not supposed to do everything right…help them realize that screwing up is part of growing up. Learning from a mistake is a lesson that makes them a better person.

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Debra Sue Solecki

Author Debra Sue Solecki has experienced many “first days of school”. As a kid, as a mother of 2 and as an elementary teacher for the past 27 years, she wants to remind you that first days are STRESSFUL!

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