How to Cope with Back to School Stress
by Debbie Mandel
The school year presents an opportunity for a fresh start, getting together with old and new friends, new accomplishments and exciting activities - a measure of growth. A new vibration can be felt in the air.
Instead, in many households anxiety, stress and even sadness reign. Parents need to bribe their children with fancy knap sacks, jazzy school folders and lunch boxes, not to mention the back-to-school clothes to take the sting out of returning to school.
The problem with school, any level from pre-school to college, is labeling. Children wear their scarlet letter grades as badges of honor or shame. Early in their education children are labeled B-Student, C Student, ADD, AD/HD, LD, OCD, Obese, etc. Once a child is labeled, expectations seem to fall in line with that label. Ironically in spite of the labels parents harbor unrealistic expectations and become disappointed. The children absorb that disappointment and live down to the lesser image. They begin to feel inexplicably unhappy and irritable eroded by teachers and parents. Children soon experience stomachaches, headaches, insomnia and more frequent colds.
The start of a new school year provides an opportunity for a new spiritual beginning, a change in perception. At this very moment parents need to create a home environment conducive to empowerment and the philosophy of the little engine that could. Parents need to choose to see their children in a positive light. Affirm them even in thoughts because children are mind readers. We need to stop anticipating their worst, and visualize their best. They will respond by being happier, healthier and the best that they can be - now. So, if your child does not get the lead in the play, don’t look at him or her with anxious eyes. Instead listen to what your child is really saying: “Mom, I was chosen to clap and cheer in the audience.” Here are some suggestions to take the stress out of school as you help your children build up self-esteem:
- Start now to get those late summer bedtimes in line with early school mornings. Children need to get their sleep. Begin to taper down about a half hour each day to reach a reasonable bedtime. Stick to it. The key to good sleep is regularity. Establish a bedtime ritual such as: milk and crackers, a story, a bath, or a discussion of the day’s events. Every child is different. Some children relax after a bath while others are stimulated.
- Prepare tomorrow’s clothes the evening before. This time saver will reduce morning stress.
- Set up an in-basket and an out-basket similar to those in an office. Your children will place their homework assignment sheets in the in-basket when they come home and then place completed assignments in the out- basket later in the evening. When they leave in the morning, they just have to pick up their work from the basket and they are good to go.
- Make sure your children eat a healthy, balanced breakfast even if it is on the run. Cut out sugars and white processed foods. Sugary sodas are on the forbidden list. Children who eat a wholesome breakfast control their weight better and learn better at school.
- Make sure your child does some exercise daily even for 15-20 minutes. The benefits include: shedding stress, feeling happier and having more focus for homework.
- Don’t over-schedule your children with extracurricular, after school activities. This stresses you out as you rush to drive them from activity to activity and they feel overwhelmed without any quiet, free time.
- Post affirmations around the house for your children to see. Even better: select those quotes together and encourage your children to decorate them.
- Try to respect your children and avoid confrontation. Communicate calmly and specifically what you would like them to do. Because if you put them on the defensive with the blame game, they will shut down and ultimately feel unhappy about disappointing you.
- If there are special learning problems or social issues, visit the school to speak to teachers, guidance counselors and the principal. Be your child’s advocate and let him or her know that you are. Be involved and visit periodically. The school and parents should not be engaged in a tug of war. You are all on the same side.
- If you cannot greet your kids when they come home from school because you are at work, remember to call them. Children love to talk on the phone and you can connect with them. Have healthy, attractive looking snacks like colorful cut-up fruit available in the fridge, or layer a sundae glass with low fat yogurt and berries. Top it with a cherry. No child will cut up a cantaloupe.
- Eat dinner with your children to bond with them and share each other’s day.
- See your life as a sit-com and laugh.
Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WHLI 1100AM in New York City , produces a weekly wellness newsletter, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: www.turnonyourinnerlight.com