School Stresses

Growing YearsBeginning a new school year can be stressful to your child. Children have different responses to returning to school. Emotions run the gambit from fear and dread to sheer uncontrollable excitement. Most children fall somewhere in between, and vacillate between two or three reoccurring emotions. Some children hide their feelings, while some children act them out. Separation from parents, homework, and academic and social pressures create stress. Very few children have the maturity to express what they are really feeling. This is called “back to school’ stress. Your child may need some coping methods to handle the stress associated with returning to school.

Apprehension and anxiety can turn into physical and emotional symptoms with children. They may become insecure, lose their confidence, and find difficulty in adjusting, as they enter a new grade, a new school, or start out a new year. Throwing a temper tantrum can be a normal response, although frustrating for parents and caregivers. It is a natural result of trying to adjust to change. Other indications may be mood swings, acting out, changes in sleep patterns, bed wetting, stomachaches, headaches, trouble concentrating or completing schoolwork, and becoming withdrawn, spending more than normal time alone.

Reducing anxiety for children who are entering new grade levels and school settings can be as simple and easy as making adjustments to their schedules and routines. Take a look at the extracurricular activities. Determine if your child is over scheduled by listening to what he/she is saying about them. If you find there are complaints about going to the activity, look at the positives and negatives of quitting one activity and discuss them with your child. If this is not feasible, readjust the child’s schedule and rotate activities to prevent the “overwhelmed” feeling. While a schedule is very necessary to reduce stress, it can sometimes feel very repressive. Be creative with scheduling, balancing active and quiet times, as well as, preferred and non-preferred activities. Remember to make time to play creatively and relax after school.

Take away the stresses you can control. Save negative topics, such as work problems, finances, or ill parents, etc. for bedroom discussions, away from your child. Watch the news in another room, or talk to your child about what is heard or seen, offering some assurance about his/her immediate safety.

Always talk to your child about the school day, and encourage “talking” by being a good listener. Make these conversations open and honest, looking at what happened, how your child reacted, and what can be done to change the situation next time. Expressing thoughts, ideas, and emotions in a safe environment, with you, may be all that is needed to reduce “school stress.” It is not always necessary to give advice; just listen with an open and controlled mind.

Incorporate healthy eating habits with fresh fruit snacks, healthy protein such as peanut butter, and other low fat but high-flavor meals that maximize your child’s energy level. Keep both of you organized. Make sure the backpack is packed the night before, lunch prepared well before the school bus arrives, and the daily schedule is ready, creating a sense of control, and lessening anxiety as the day starts. Helping your child through stressful transitional times, teaching that change is a constant at any stage of life, and modeling how to adapt and cope effectively, will benefit them all of their lives.