Whether it has been a week or a month, it’s back-to-school season. School might be exciting for some, but it can be stressful for kids, parents and teachers alike. How are you and your kids handling it? If you’re like me, it isn’t always pretty. One day might be smooth while the next is total chaos.
The first day, we were champions: kids up, fed, dressed, bags packed, teeth brushed, even reading a book at the bus stop. Day two, they fought over who was riding the one working bicycle and missed the bus. One kid ran down the road and caught up to the bus three stops away. Another stomped back into the yard and had to be practically shoved into the neighbor’s minivan to catch it at the nearest corner.
When kids feel you getting stressed, it might be time to take a step back. In reality, like me, you might be feeling like reaching forward (my mother warned me not to lunge); I may even have yelled that morning, at the bus, the driver and the kids. Parents are the leaders of the family and set both the pace and atmosphere of home in the same way teachers do for their classrooms. Clearly, none of us is perfect. In fact, we all have room for improvement.
You cannot control your child’s school day or home life, but you can influence it and teach some coping strategies. Here are five helps to lessen school stress for the whole family.
Get some rest. (Seriously.)
I know it is still really nice out in the evenings and you want to let them stay up, but getting back to a regular bedtime routine (starting at least 20-30 minutes before bedtime) will help ease back-to-school pain. We can all use the rest, so that means parents too! Mornings will be easier, trust me. A rested brain is less stressed.
Baby steps aren’t just for babies.
Ease back into the routine. Take small bites each day and you will accomplish tasks and goals for the week and more. Don’t overwhelm your child with everything at once, which can sometimes happen when teachers tell kids the first week of school what they accomplish all year. He or she won’t need to accomplish everything at once, just one “bite” at a time.
If they cannot handle what is expected for school work or homework, speak to the teacher, minimize extra-curricular activities or get a tutor. Not everyone needs to play a sport every season, or maybe just one lesson a week instead of more.
Tidy up as you go (you’ll thank me later).
Clean up the clutter, all the mini stacks. No judgement here, but you know it has built up, like everywhere (mine sure has). When my space is cluttered, so is my thinking. I find it hard to focus and quite stressful. In contrast, I find myself much more at peace when my space is clean and clear. Not spotless, but organized.
Make sure your kids have a clean and clear area to work free of distraction but close enough to be supervised. Have designated places for them to put backpacks, papers for you to read and the like. In the same way, be sure they empty the backpack daily and put completed homework in the bag to return!
Jot it all down on something.
I have six kids. I might look like I am willy-nilly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants crazy, but most days I actually have a plan. Life is busy on a regular day, not to mention adding school events, sports, play dates, sleepovers and everything else. Keep a calendar (either paper, electronic or both) to organize who has to be where and when.
Plan ahead whenever possible, even just logistics, to maximize time management, including meals, grocery shopping and laundry. Refer to and use the calendar every day and teach your kids (even kindergarten) to do some form of this too. Wipe-off boards are okay, unless you have a smart alec who might wipe stuff off other people’s boards (no names, just saying).
When in doubt, get help—it’s okay!
Kudos to all of you who do the job of parenting alone. My respect goes to any single parent out there. Most of us need help at some point in time, or constantly. Maybe you have a neighborhood mom who doesn’t mind the kids over after school until you’re home, or maybe you have a sister or parent who is close. Use them!
Maybe you already pay a sitter or nanny to be there when you’re not; enlist them to help supervise homework, chores or be the taxi. Don’t feel like you, as the parent, HAVE TO BE at every practice, game or event (yeah, I know ma, take my own advice). Surprisingly, kids will totally understand if you just talk to them and let them talk to you. This does not mean tell your child everything that stresses you out, just that sometimes you get stressed too and need to…rest, take it slow, get focused, make a plan of attack or get help.
Parents need to keep in touch with teachers when stress becomes a problem, specifically if the stress begins to impact the child’s functioning, his or her ability to attend school and learn. Bring the issue up to your pediatrician as soon as you think stress or anxiety are causing your child difficulty. You might encounter some people who don’t believe school anxiety or stress are real issues, who believe that kids are just being lazy or manipulative. Parents, you know your child best. Trust your instincts.
Ask for support from your school nurse and guidance staff as well. Be firm with your expectations for your child. Remember to be willing to compromise and be flexible to meet the goal—which is a healthy, growing and progressing child.