Me? Stressed? Coping Well with All Those Back-To-School Challenges

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At Target, buckets, shovels and slip and slides are all placed in the clearance aisle with notebooks, three ring binders and pens piled high on the shelves instead. Yes…we’re back in school! Starting the new school year may include looking for the right pack of crayons, deciding between a 3 subject a 5 subject notebook, or digging through the hall closet for last year’s school backpack. However, it can also include an array of emotions for you and your child: excitement, nervousness, relief, anxiety and/or stress. New teachers, changing social relationships, and fresh academic challenges. What are some of the things you and your family can do to manage these new school year feelings?

Me? Stressed? The stresses differ depending on a student’s personality, age, and maturity.
These are just some of the things kids worry about:

• Worries about their social world – Perhaps your child had a friendship last year that went sideways and is concerned about facing this peer again. Perhaps she has lost contact with most of her friends over the summer and worries about reconnecting with them.
• Academic stress – “How am I going to keep up with projects and grades?”
• Transition difficulties – It can be a challenge to transition from the unstructured “fun” time of summer to the rigors of the very structured school day. Also, transitions to new schools and new grade level demands can be both exciting and daunting.
• The “unknown” – Worries about what the new teacher will be like, fitting in with friends, keeping up with a new class schedule, finding the way around school – ah, living with uncertainty.

What’s a Parent to Do? There are plenty of things you can do to help your kids successfully manage their stress level during the first months of the new school year as well as teach appropriate coping skills that will help them throughout the year. Here are some suggestions:

• “Do our own work:” Yep, staying aware of our own stress levels and how we are managing is essential to helping our children. They are watching us. They are tuned into our energy. Our stress levels can affect them. So, take time to tune into your own inner world. Do what you can to create balance; to breathe; to appreciate beauty. But don’t make “balance” another stressor! Just do what you can – and be kind to yourself.
• Create “white” space – You may know this term from the world of graphics and publishing. Leaving white space on the page means the page is not cluttered & over-stimulating. Most of us do not have much white space in our lives, especially when the new school year kicks in like a whirlwind. Help your children schedule in down time just to relax and do things that enliven their spirit. Join them by enjoying some white space of your own.
• Develop a routine – Create consistency and stability at home. Predictable schedules can decrease anxiety.
• Communicate – Talk with your children about feelings of stress and anxiety and maintain open lines of communication. Remember, your child may feel stress but he/she may also feel excitement and pleasure. Perhaps they are also looking forward to testing their strength, creativity and focus. Include all these aspects in the conversation.
MOVE – Research shows that exercise and movement can be very useful in reducing tension and promoting energy & focus. Help your kids identify some kinds of movement that feel good to them. And remember, all kinds of movement can be beneficial – a twirl around the kitchen while cooking dinner, a few fun dance moves to a favorite song, 3 fun stretches before sitting down to dinner, a game of catch in the front yard. These simple, momentary movements can add to our sense of physical and emotional well-being.
Breathe – Ah yes, breathe. Remind your child and yourself to take deep breaths when feeling stressed or in transition between activities.
This new school year is sure to bring many different life experiences for you and your family. Yes, there may be stress, but there are great tools available as well.

Vicki Chiang, Psy.D. (PSY21136) is a licensed clinical psychologist at the Institute for Girls’ Development in Pasadena, CA. She specializes in working with parents, children and immigrant families in her practice. She can be reached at vchiang@instituteforgirlsdevelopment.com.

Please note: Nothing in what you find here should be construed as medical advice pertinent to any individual. As is true with all written materials, and especially information found on the Internet, you must be the judge of what appears valid and useful for yourself. Please take up any questions you might have regarding the content of this website with your psychotherapist or physician.