Having back to school stress is a common struggle for children, but there are some things you can do to ease the pain. Here are some tips to help reduce anxiety and have a tear-free first week of school.
1. Healthy Family Routines: The Arkansas Psychological Association reports that family plays a key role in modeling healthy behaviors that lead to lifelong wellness and good health. Children who learn and practice healthy habits at home, such as regular physical activity and a balanced diet, have a toolbox of stress management techniques they can use during the school year. According to Jonesboro psychologist, Dr. Rebekah Evans, “When stress occurs, a foundation of healthy habits makes difficult life situations easier to navigate." Dr. Evans, and the Arkansas Psychological Association suggestion that families start their school routine early to allow time to adjust. Here are their other suggestions:
- Take a balanced approach to food – Whether it’s the school cafeteria, shopping mall, or a birthday party, your kids will be exposed to tempting sweets and fattening foods. Use home meal time and family outings as opportunities to teach your kids how to make balanced and healthy food choices.
- Set children on a consistent sleep schedule — According to the Mayo Clinic, school-aged children should get 10 to 11 hours of sleep per night. A lack of sleep can negatively affect children’s mood and behavior and their physical health. While parents may burn the candle at both ends because of work and family demands, take time to unwind as a family before your children’s bedtime.
- Don’t let your children become overwhelmed with extracurricular activities — Sometimes children, as well as parents, can become overwhelmed and overstressed from over committing themselves. Be mindful of your children’s after school activities and notice how these affect their schoolwork and relationships with family, friends and teachers. Try to properly balance their after-school activities and your own commitments to reduce stress.
2. Expectations: You can help shape your child's attitude about school by building positive expectations. It starts with your attitude about education. If a parent reflects an attitude that school is nothing more than a necessary evil, then children are more likely to absorb that mindset. On the other hand, if you promote school as an opportunity to grow-up, to learn, and to have fun, they're more likely to share the same sentiment. So, if you were not a big fan of school as a child, be sure to monitor your language. Use pro-school language like, "Wow, you get to go back to school soon!" rather than " You have to go back to school soon." Build up excitement about new teachers, friends and activities that you know they'll take part in this year and share their excitement when they talk about social and academic accomplishments at school.
3. Preparation: A major part of many anxiety problems is feeling unprepared. Practice can help alleviate this problem. It often helps to tour the school, see their new classroom and meet their new teacher before the new year begins. This is a great way to prepare kids for school. You might build on this concept by taking a friend or two with them on the tour. Then they'll share the excitement and feel more prepared. You can also take "field trips" to the school playground before the big day. Take a friend, a ball, some lunch and spend some time playing at the school for a couple of hours. Have fun and enjoy watching your child's anxiety melt away.
4. Tangible Rewards/Celebrate Success: If your child is really struggling, then you've got to help them overcome the anxiety of school. Incentives are often a helpful method. You'd be amazed by how hard kids will work for small rewards, like a stickers, or renting a movie. You might consider a tangible motivator that would promote both individual and family growth, such as a family movie night, a trip to play miniature golf or their favorite meal after school the first few days. Make it fun, or even a celebration of the new year.
In short, if your child is anxious about school this year, start now! Don't wait until the first day. Start preparing them now. Have a great school year!
Dr. Adam H. Benton