Tips on Managing Back-to-School Stress

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Hello parents! It’s that time of year again… A NEW SCHOOL YEAR!

My name is Amanda Gurgel. I'm a Licensed Mental Health Counselor that specializes in working with adults, children, and teens for over the last 10 years. I want to provide some proven strategies to help you with the potential stress that each new school year can bring. Anxious feelings or “worrying” are normal (for both parents & kids) and expected during any changes or transitions. This is especially true for young children and teenagers starting a new school year, when entering a new grade, or starting a new school. Other school-related concerns are with teachers, friends, fitting in, and/or being away from their parents. During the first few weeks of school, your child might start to display different feelings and behaviors. Below are some examples of changes children can experience:

  • Worrying

  • Temper Tantrum for young children

  • Complain of headaches or stomach pains

  • Withdrawn, angry, or irritable

  • Changes in appetite

  • Changes in sleep

 

Tips on How to Handle the NEW School Year Worries:

1. LOOK AFTER THE BASICS: FOOD AND SLEEP

It is difficult to function well when feeling tired or hungry. Anxious children or teens often forget to eat or might not feel hungry. It is helpful to have nutritious snacks available for your child. Also, it is also important to build regular routines, so that life is more predictable for your child. These routines can involve the morning routine, bedtime routine, and eating schedules.

2. ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILD TO SHARE HIS OR HER CONCERNS

Children and teens can have worries throughout the school year. If you notice changes in their behaviors, it is an opportunity to schedule a time and place to talk. Some children feel most comfortable in a private space with your full attention. Children have stress not only during transitions of back to school, but throughout the school year. It is helpful to have regular checkpoints on how they are doing. Ask your child/teen what is making them worried. It can be helpful to have them write it down and scale the worry from 1-10 (1 being the least and 10 being the highest). Tell your child that it is normal to have these concerns, but together you can explore the worry, problem-solve, and plan.

3. COACH YOUR CHILD TO PROBLEM-SOLVE AND PLAN

Children often seek reassurance that “bad” things won’t happen to help reduce their worry. “Don’t worry!” or “Everything will be fine!” are great examples to open the conversation. However, it is important to encourage your child to think of ways to solve their problems. For example, “If (their worry) happens, what could you do?” or “Let’s think of some other ways you could handle this situation.” This gives you the opportunity to coach your child on how to manage stress and problem solve. You will also be helping your child develop the tools he or she needs to cope with unexpected situations that might arise. 

 

Here are a few sample scripts for engaging your child in problem-solving and planning:

  • Role-play with your child: This approach can help him or her make a plan and feel more confident to handle the situation. For example, let your child play the part of the demanding teacher or bullying classmate. Then, model age-appropriate options and responses.

  • Focus on the positive aspects! Encourage your child to re-direct attention away from their worries and towards the positives. It is important to have a balance between positive aspects and worries. Ask your child, “What are 2-3 things that you are most excited about in school?” Most kids can think of at least 1 thing thats good. Chances are that the fun aspects are simply getting overlooked by repetitive worries.

  • Pay attention to your own behavior. Children and teens learn from their parent’s example. Therefore, it is important for you to role model the behaviors you want to see. The more confident, solution-focused, and calm you are able to model, the more they will understand there is no reason to be afraid.

  •  For example, dropping them off at school or saying goodbye can be a difficult transition. It is important to remain calm and supportive, but do not reward your child’s protests, crying, or tantrums to avoid going to school. Instead, in a calm voice, say: “I can see that going to school is making you feel scared, but you still have to go. Tell me what you are worried about, so we can talk about it.” It is normal for children to feel worried and how you respond will help them find solutions.

 

Suggestions for helping with the NEW School Year Transition:

  • Go to school and familiarize with the transportation setting– walking, driving, or taking the bus. For young children taking the school bus, it is helpful to draw out the bus route, including where the bus goes and how long it takes to get to school. Also, talk about bus safety rules such as staying seated, talking quietly, etc… When children or teens are familiar with their environment and expectations, it can improve their anxious feelings. 

  • Ask your child or teen to help choose and organize their outfits for the first few weeks of school. Invite them to select their favorite outfit to wear weekly.

  • Together with your child or teen, pack up the school bag and include snacks and water.

  • For younger children who are nervous about being apart from their parents, suggest taking a special object to school that reminds him of home. An endearing note in a child’s lunch can also help with the separation anxiety.

  • Most importantly, praise and reward your child for brave behavior.

WISHING YOU AND YOUR FAMILY THE BEST OF LUCK for the NEW SCHOOL 2019-2020 YEAR!

If you have any questions, please send me an email:

Amanda@beyond-counseling.com