How to Beat Back-to-School Stress for Students

A recent survey by the Associated Press found that young people feel 10% more stress than adults, and going back to school was the number one source of stress. "It's always a major time of adjustment," said child psychiatrist Margo Thienemann, MD. "The transition from summer is seldom easy." But is an ideal time for parents and students to develop strategies to reduce the stress and anxiety that comes with the start of a new school year.

The end of summer break is upon us and most children have already gone back to school by now. So, we have a come up with a short list of stressors that many children and teens face at school as well as some ideas to help you help your child to better handle that stress.

  • Stressor: Lack of Sleep
    Insufficient sleep can cause students to be cranky, inattentive and lethargic.

    How you can help:
    The key to good sleep is regularity. Make a nighttime/sleep plan and stick to it. Start slowing things down at least a half hour before bedtime. Rafael Pelayo, MD, Director of the Pediatric Sleep Service says that "a bedtime routine is as important for a 2-year-old as it is for a 12-year-old or a 35-year-old." He added that "A National Sleep Foundation poll found that children who read just prior to bed or were read to slept better and longer." Not only will reading help them to wind down for sleep, but it's great for them academically too.

  • Stressor: Homework
    Students often get overwhelmed by their homework load, sometimes they feel there is just too much of it, but more often the problem is the seemingly lack of time.

    How you can help:
    Help your kids to realize that homework comes first. It should be done before TV, video games, surfing the Internet, talking on the phone, or any other "extras". Make sure the kids know it's a priority. Set a specific time and place for homework. Eliminate unnecessary distractions so that they can focus on their assignments in a designated homework area.

  • Stressor: Bullies
    Dealing with bullies is an age old problem that can happen at any age. The emotional and physical damage from being bullied can cause a myriad of problems including:
    • Attempted suicide
    • Blaming ones self
    • Decreased self-worth
    • Feelings of shame
    • Frequent absences
    • High anxiety levels
    • Physical problems such as headaches, stomachaches and depression

    How you can help:
    Discuss with your children how they might deal with bullies. If they are prepared to deal with difficult circumstances, there will be fewer problems and worry if and when they come up. If they are already having a problem with a bully, contact your child's school, they are not only legally responsible for addressing the issue, but they will be a great source of helpful information.

  • Stressor: Overloaded schedules
    Even more than adults, kids can get overwhelmed by busy schedules. Their stress can be magnified by the fact that they often don't have control over many of the things that consume their time.

    How you can help
    Don't allow your children to be over-scheduled with extracurricular activities. Even if every activity is something they are interested in, they will most likely still feel overwhelmed without any quiet, free time for themselves. Help them to prioritize family, friends, homework, school activities and social life. Help them free up time for more important things by limiting potential time-wasters such as TV, the Internet and the phone. Have them limit their extracurricular activities to those that they're truly passionate about.

You can lessen the chance of your child becoming overwhelmed if you are aware of the things that stress them out. Remember these general tips for helping your kids when it comes to stress:

  1. Keep an eye out for and pay special attention to the issues mentioned in this article.
  2. Talk to your kids. If they don't seem to want to talk, don't force them, but keep communicating with them.
  3. Ask for help if you need it. Don't be afraid to call a therapist, even if it just for you to go and get some advice.
  4. Be as active as you can at your kids' school. Knowing what's going on at school will help you to better understand what's going on with your child on a daily basis.

Face it; your kids are going to face stressful situations throughout their lives. All kids have potential for emotional unrest, but if you can see what's going on, you can help them stay cool under pressure. If you are paying attention and listening to your child you can see red flags and hopefully help reduce the effects of those stressors.

We discuss stress relief in more detail in The Program for Heart Health. Download it now and take a nice, relaxed look at Chapter 8 today.

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