Many children and parents look forward to heading back to school after a long summer. However, this year, there is the additional anxiety and stress due to the pandemic. For many parents, balancing childcare, work, school, and family needs is overwhelming and often seems impossible.
As adults, we know how bad stress is for our well-being. We need to show children how to work through stressful situations. One way to accomplish this is to talk about stress; identify what it is and how it affects our bodies. It is important to remember that some of the stress we feel as parents can transfer to our children. By casually talking, you not only will become aware of how your child feels, but it may actually help ease much of the stress simply by not keeping it all bottled up inside. Once you know your child’s specific stressors, you can then give them tools to work through it. This will help keep the last few days of summer and first few days of school a little more relaxed and a little less stressed.
Children pick up on our stress. If you are stressed out, it can make your kids stressed out, and when everyone is stressed, it’s a recipe for disaster. Work on positive thinking. Take deep breaths and calm your body and mind. Deep breathing is one of the simplest and best ways to lower stress in our bodies. This goes for both parents and kids.
Once school starts, keep your eye out for warning signs that something is wrong. These can include a loss of appetite, secrecy or lack of communication, isolation, emotional outbursts and much more. If you have concerns, talk to your child, teachers or principals, and even your doctor to help manage the issue and create a support framework.
Using the last few weeks of blissful summer to get into a “school day rhythm” is a great way to prepare for starting school. Switching from summer hours to early bedtimes and wake-ups is often the toughest part of the back to school routine. It’s important to remember that a good night’s sleep is one of the fundamentals to staying healthy and keeping stress levels down during the transition and throughout the year.
Though it may be difficult, setting screen time limits and expectations is important. Screens can be addictive and distracting, so it’s a good idea to start adjusting your child’s viewing habits before the academic year. Studies continue to show that electronics before sleep can lead to disrupted sleep and fatigue the next day.
Some children may not express their feelings about going back to school. Ask if they have anything they’re excited about in the coming year. Parents can also open a dialogue that allows children to express concerns or worries. Having this conversation before the year begins will give you a chance to dispel any myths and develop a plan to manage stress and anxiety.
Anxiety is a growing concern for school-age children, whether it’s separation anxiety, social anxiety, fear of not fitting in or even feeling the pressure to stay on top of grades and activities. You can help children cope with back to school anxiety by talking about the return well in advance. Make sure they’re aware of who their teacher is, their class schedule, and any changes from their former routine. As a family, identify what you keeps you safe and things you have control over, such as wearing a mask, washing your hands, eating healthy, and keeping socially distant. Identify the things out of your control, and make an effort to let them go.
Remember, you are not in this alone and reach out for additional support if needed. Jewish Family Service of MetroWest NJ offers a variety of services for children and their families. We also offer support to schools and professionals that may be struggling and looking for help coping with our current situation. For more information, please visit www.jfsmetrowest.org or call 973-765-9050.
Marianne McCrone, MS, NCC, LPC
Program Coordinator, Child & Adolescent Services