Back-to-school stress: Here's how to cope
Tips for helping kids and parents cope with heading back to school
New teachers. New friends. Maybe even new enemies. There are many reasons for parents and students to be stressed this time of the year.
If you're nervous about how your kids will fare when school starts, chances are they will be too.
Parenting expert Ann Douglas has tips to help parents and kids cope with the first day of school. Douglas is the best-selling author of several books about pregnancy and parenting. Her newest book is Parenting Through the Storm: Handling the Highs, the Lows, and Everything In-Between. The book guides parents with children struggling through mental health or behavioural challenges.
CBC Hamilton's Conrad Collaco spoke with Douglas. Here's an edited and abridged transcript of that conversation. You can listen to the full interview by clicking the image at the top of this page.
Ann Douglas, author and parenting expert
Q: What can parents do to calm the nerves on the first day of school?
The big thing is to figure out what is on your child's mind. They probably have some specific worries. Find out what those are and validate those feelings. Sometimes we have the temptation, because we want to make things better for our kids right now, to say things like 'don't worry. It will be fine.' But all that does is drive the worry underground. Find out what is bothering them and brainstorm solutions while you convey confidence that they will be able to deal with whatever they face.
You have to be calm, too. Deal with your own worries. Don't pass them on. Deal with your worries behind the scenes with your own friends. Model active coping. Say 'I think I have a busy day of errands tomorrow, I'd better get to bed early tonight.'
Q: How easy is it to pass on your stress to your kids?
It can be little things like our tone of voice or our body language or snapping in a situation when we wouldn't normally snap. If that happens then hit the pause button and say 'sorry, I was really grumpy about that. I didn't mean to sound that way." Sometimes you don't have a lot of patience left and your child is saying 'I can't carry this backpack. It's the wrong kind. We have to go to ten more stores looking for the right one.' And you're thinking 'I just can't deal with this right now.' Just regroup and figure out a solution.
Q: For most kids, back-to-school jitters are totally normal, something they experience every year. What are the signs that something more troublesome is going on?
You want to ask yourself 'Is this a really big change in my child's behaviour?' Maybe it's more amplified than you have seen in the past. Maybe the anxiety is really sticking around this time. Maybe in the past you have been able to brainstorm solutions but if the worry is interfering with their ability to cope or you are seeing behavioural changes or your child isn't sleeping or eating then you want to treat it as a bigger problem. Reach out for help sooner rather than later.
Q: Many teachers are parents too. They have the stress of getting their kids ready for school while getting themselves ready as well. What advice do you have for teachers?
Take really good care of yourself. Get up a few minutes early to think about your day. Even if it's just 15 minutes focusing on how you can take care of yourself. If you can, go for a walk around the block at lunch. Do whatever you can to inject some self-care into your day. If you are giving at home and giving at school you won't have a lot left for yourself.