Handling Back to School Stress

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – Back to school can be a particularly stressful time for kids both physically and emotionally, but its also a good time to help kids implement strategies to cope with stressors. This morning, Dr. Judith Zackson, tri-state psychologist, stopped by our studio to talk about those coping techniques and how you can handle back to school stress.

Below are some questions Dr. Zackson answered for us:

What is the biggest stress for children?

  • Change:  who is on the bus, who is the teacher, what will be different, will my clothes be okay, will my friends be in my class?  Will school be difficult?

What can parents do to manage back to school stress?

  • Begin with basics and set up routines:  a week before school start your child on a school day routine.  Structure: Waking up, eating and regular bedtime. Children thrive in structure and predictability.
  • Prepare your child: pay a visit to the school, meet the teacher, plan play dates, draw out the bus route

How can we comfort kids and not add to their anxiety?

  • Encourage your child to share their fears: listen and show that you understand how hard it is with all the pressures
  • Avoid giving reassurance: instead encourage your child to plan and problem solve sharing tools they need to cope with difficult situations.
  • Focus on positives aspects of change:  This year can be a do over.
  • priorities:  talk to children about finding a balance among disciplines, school and sports: instead of 3 sports take 1 sport or maybe encouragement to do something new.
  • Perspective:  teach kids how to sit alone and relax rather than over schedule–creativity and innovation happens with imagination.
  • Patience:  be kind with self, not black and white thinking:  if not great at one thing good at another—learn acceptance.
  • Be a role model: Take care of your own stress:  model a balanced life style.
  • Do calming activities together with your child:  yoga, mediation, walks in nature.

What is the biggest stress for parents? 

  • Homework: Homework represent change from what they want to do to what they have to do.
  • Younger kids: Find out expectations of homework, time to spend on it, if they should do it on their own, if problem write a note to the teacher.
  • Older kids: ask them what works best for the;  are you better off doing it in your room or kitchen table, right after school or do you need a break?  Encourage your child to do things for themselves—now you’re in the 3rd grade…lets see what you can do alone?

Tips to get your child to talk about their school day:

  • Younger children:  do not ask open ended questions: Rather ask about their artwork, know their school schedule and themes they are learning and explore the topics with them.   Model sharing your day. Take time to talk at the dinner table. Take advantage of bedtime stalling. Listen when kids start talking and hold off on questions
  • Middle school:  your child seems upset after school, instead of bombarding with questions wait a bit and ask later “I noticed you were upset when you came home from school? Did something happen?” Compliments can start great conversations as well.
  • Teens:  teens can interpret questions as demands and intrusiveness and afraid you will overreact and interfere in their life.  they may be more inclined to talk about their friends’ experience in school.  Also   instead of ordering them to do their homework ask them about their plan for homework.

Which students are more at risk for back to school anxiety?

  • Kids with a history of being more anxious:   protective factor:  healthy eating, adequate sleep and strong support system.

What are the signs your child is suffering from anxiety and needs help?

  • Child refusing to go to school
  • social withdrawal, spending time in their room
  • Difficulty concentrating,
  • Sleep and eating habits change
  • Consistent physical Complaints:  stomach or headaches
  • Consistent Acting out, restlessness, difficult to control, and tantrums,

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