6 Ways To Ease Back-to-School Stress

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

Remember your first week at your new job? Your stomach was full of butterflies. You were excited to be starting something new, but you also didn’t know what to expect, and that led to stress and anxiety. Just like the first week on a new job, the beginning of a school year can be stressful.

Part of the stress of the start of a year is all the transitions that are happening at once. Think about all the changes a child faces at the beginning of a new school year. They’re starting a new grade, perhaps in a new school. They’re getting used to a new teaching style, a new schedule, a different time for lunch, etc.

With all of those changes, of course there is stress! That first week back, everyone is exhausted and dazed. There are two ways you can make this transition a little easier for everyone in your family: You can be purposeful and planful in your schedule, and you can teach your kids healthy ways to manage stress.

Be purposeful with your schedule

We all get a little less structured during the summer months, and our schedules are (hopefully) less busy during this time, too. A few weeks before school begins, start gradually waking up yourself and your kids a little bit earlier, so that by the time school starts, you’re closer to a typical school day wake-up time.

The start of the school year is always busy. Why add to the madness by starting several activities at the same time? Take this opportunity to prioritize activities and only choose one. Does your child want to try a new activity or do they absolutely adore an activity they’ve done? Talk about this as a family and decide which activity will be done first. Let your child ease into the school year, get comfortable, and then add to the schedule.

If this is a year of big transitions in school, maybe it makes sense to start with nothing and then add on as everyone gets more comfortable. My son started kindergarten this past year. Although he had been doing activities while he was in preschool, we wanted to be very thoughtful because he was starting full-day kindergarten. I know it seems a little unconventional, but he had no scheduled activities until January. This allowed him time to get settled into new routines, and it worked really well for all of us.

Teach your child to manage stress

Stress is part of everyone’s life; kids and adults feel stressed at one time or another. Dealing with stress is something that can be taught, just as you teach children to brush their teeth or take a bath. Teaching them how to cope with stress now is wonderful because it is more likely they will become an adult with good coping skills.

First and foremost, it’s important to first recognize that overwhelmed feeling. Talk with your child about what their body feels like when they are stressed out. Does their stomach get clenched? Does their mind go fuzzy? Do they feel sweaty? When their body gives them those cues, then it’s time to use a coping skill. The hope is that with enough practice, kids will start to make the connection that they need to use a coping skill on their own when they feel this way.

It sounds hokey and overdone, but taking deep breaths cues your body to move out of flight, fright, or freeze mode and back into rest and digest mode. When you are in flight, fright, or freeze, your breathing gets shallow. By deliberately taking deep breaths, you’re telling your body to calm down. The way to take a good, effective, deep breath is to breathe from your belly, not your chest.

Pretend that your belly is a balloon. When you take a deep breath your belly should expand like a balloon. When you breathe out, your belly should move in, like air is escaping from a balloon.

Help your child figure out things they can do to relax. Start with their favorites. My children love to create projects with recycling, do arts & crafts, and read silly books. Here are other ideas to help you brainstorm ways your child can:

•      Coloring

•      Listen to music

•      Playing with a pet

•      Building with LEGOs

•      Shuffling cards

•      Knitting

•      Going to a playground

Do something relaxing and enjoyable for the first weekend after school starts. It may be going to a new playground or taking a special trip to the frozen yogurt place. Keep it low key. It’s always great to have something special to look forward to after a tough week.

Transitions in life happen, and back to school always comes quicker than we think. Being planful with your schedule and teaching your child ways to cope with stress will make the transition a bit easier for everyone.