Back to school: Stressful for both students and parents

The new school year is about to begin. We have left behind the often stressful hustle and bustle that school preparation has presented us, and we are “off and running” for another school year.

For many families there is nothing more stressful for mental health than the beginning of the new school year. Their children will have new teachers, new classes, and new school mates. For many students, they will be attending new schools, also. For students, parents, and significant others this transition time between the summer vacation and the new school term can be most stressful.

Students may have many questions, such as: Will I like my new teachers? Will I like my new classes? Will there be a lot of homework? Will I make friends? Etc.

For Parents, questions posed may be: Is my child going to be safe in school? Is my child going to have problems with their teachers and classes? Is my child going to choose good friends in school? Will my child have nutritional lunches while in school? Etc.

Remember that Teachers also have similar concerns, and this may also be a stressful time for them as well.

There are seven tried and tested tips, or steps, that can be taken to ease the stress, reduce the anxiety, and insure a healthy transition associated with the annual return to school.

I know from my own experience as a Counseling Psychologist that no one of these seven steps, or tips, is less important than the other; they all serve as tips to help with the transition to a mentally healthy school experience.

Tip #1: BE ENTHUSIASTIC. Almost all children have some fears associated with the beginnings of a new school year. Parents need to help alleviate the child’s fears. We parents must do our best to project an attitude of confidence and enthusiasm. As example, if your child is fearful that frustrations they have had in the past, empathize that this is a new year; a new change and beginning.

Tip #2: BE REALISTIC. Instilling a sense of confidence and enthusiasm in your child is an important part of preparing for a new school year, but be careful not to raise his/her expectations too high. As example, if your child has struggled with grades in the past, don’t talk about this being a “Straight A year.” Instead help them identify small, measureable achievements that they can make.

Tip #3: BE PREPARED. For many students, the most intimating aspect of a new school year is the fear of the unknown. There is no way you can dispel all of their worries, but you can ease quite a bit of your child’s back-to-school anxiety by removing as many unknowns as possible. As examples to stay on top of this may include taking a tour of the school, meeting with the teacher, and talking with your child about various problems that may be encountered in school.

Tip #4: BE PROACTIVE. Don’t be among those who take a “wait and see” approach. Being proactive with your child and school personnel means that you are committed to your child’s welfare, and you know that it’s easier to solve a problem before it gets too big. Examples may include talking with the teachers about certain subjects or situations you child has encountered in school in the past and make them aware of your concerns.

Tip #5: BE CONSISTENT. When it comes to your child and school, don’t forget that routines are your ally. From consistent bedtimes to a well-established homework zone, developing positive habits can help ease anxiety and promote appropriate behaviors. In my counseling career I often found this to be most difficult for many parents; setting and keeping boundaries, and establishing healthy routines for the children. As examples, insuring your child goes to bed and gets up at the same time will eventually become a habit. Establishing a “homework zone” away from distractions is also important.

Tip# 6: KNOW WHO YOUR CHILD’S FRIENDS ARE, AND INSURE YOUR CHILD IS INVOLVED WITH SCHOOL EXTRA-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES. Remember that your child is susceptible to peer pressure; mostly positive, but negative also. Talk to your children about alcohol and other drug use, about the virtue of “being good and doing good” and how they can confront negative problems should they arise. There is a lot of literature out there on this subject readily available to help you know how to address these issues.

Tip # 7: MANAGE YOUR OWN STRESS. How do you as parents and teachers work on your own stress levels? Find ways to naturally reduce the stress in your life without the use of alcohol or other mind altering chemicals. There are many stress management methods and techniques to aid in doing so.

Preparing your children for the new school year is part and parcel of parenting. Successes and failures will probably come, so do not always expect perfection from yourselves or your children; no one can be perfect at all tasks all the time.

As those familiar with my writings and thoughts on the matter can attest to, all we can do is strive for perfection. In raising my own children, my wife and I always did our very best “with the tools we had been given.” Were there mistakes? You bet. It was only a commitment to always do better that pulled us through; we are very pleased with the results; our children growing up with exceptional values, advanced academics, productive employment, and raising our four wonderful grandchildren. I imparted this sense of commitment in my Counseling profession as well in working with children and families in other treatment venues.

Above all else, I suggest parents listen, listen, and listen some more. Listening to what your child is telling you both verbally and non-verbally. Listening to your child is really an art that takes a lot of practice.

Remember that no set of rules, policies or procedures can guarantee a successful school year for your child, but by embracing the ideas expressed above you can increase the likelihood that both you and your child will be as prepared as possible for the challenges which lie ahead.

If you are having difficulty in any of the mentioned steps, or if your child is having difficulty, I most strongly urge you to begin immediately in seeking help…teacher assistance, school counselors, mental health counselors, etc. There is always someone out there willing to help.

I would that all of you parents and children have a most successful school year ahead. Stay Healthy my Friends.