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So, in less than a month, summer will be drawing to a close. *big sigh* Are your kids excited about the new school year? Nervous? Filled with dread? Whatever their emotions, here’s a rundown of how to help them (and possibly yourself!) stay stress-free this year.
Why all the stress?
So, first, let’s peek into the brain of a child and see where all this stress is coming from, shall we? Here are the top reasons that children experience school-related stress:
• Being away from home
• Adjusting to new routines
• Worrying about not making new friends
• Fearing punishment from teacher and other school staff
• Fearing not being able to perform as well as classmates
• Worrying about not being able to complete homework assignments
That’s a lot going on in the head of our wee ones, isn’t it? So, let’s see how all this pressure can affect them:
What childhood stress may look like
• Physical: nausea, stomach aches, headaches, wetting
• Emotional: fear, anxiety, irritability, depression
• Behavioral: crying, temper tantrums, repetitive movements (rocking, humming)
• Interpersonal relationships: withdrawal, isolation, extreme shyness, or bullying and teasing
How these symptoms play out depends on the individual child: one child may become depressed and withdraw from others, while another child may experience headaches, and another may lash out through teasing and bullying. In a school setting, stress reactions may also include difficulty focusing, inability to follow directions, or failure to complete in-class assignments.
Helping your child cope with stress
Okay, now here’s why you started reading to begin with: What you can do to help your child. According to Virginia Molgaard, Human Development and Family Studies of the Iowa State University Extension Center, there are several strategies to help your child effectively cope with school-related stress:
• Talk It Out. Encourage your child to talk about whatever stress s/he is experiencing. Allow your child to start the conversation rather than force it by asking too many questions. A good time to do this is at snack time when they first come home from school or during bedtime. Rather than asking “What’s wrong?” ask “How was your day?” a more open-ended question that allows your child to decide how much to disclose. Remain non-judgmental about what your child tells you so that he or she feels comfortable sharing.
• Work It Out. Participate in a family-oriented exercise program, such as biking hiking, or swimming to reduce stress levels.
• Bond One-on-One. Devote specific periods for one-on-one time. Identify hobbies or other activities that you and your child can do together. This provides a great way to have fun with your child while also fostering conversation.
• Eat Right. Maintaining healthy eating habits will teach your child that good nutrition enables their bodies to better cope with stressful situations.
• Relax Together. Teach relaxation techniques. One method is to have them sit quietly and take slow breaths while visualizing pleasant scenes such as a past birthday party, vacation, or other happy occasion. As with a healthy diet, relaxation provides a boost to the immune system helping the body to ward of the negative side-effects of stress.
• Hug, Hug, Hug. Provide plenty of physical comfort such as hugs and back rubs as these help your child feel secure and relax. Gentle touch is a very strong stress reducer.
• Combat Perfectionism. Teach your child that mistakes are okay and just part of the learning process. Everyone makes mistakes (including parents!)
• Set Rules and Consequences. Clearly define the ground rules for misconduct by letting your child know what is expected of him or her and together deciding on the consequences. Be sure to follow through as children need consistency in both word and deed.
• Role Play. Role play different ways to handle stressful situations. If your child will be starting school, use your child’s stuffed toys or dolls to act out the first day so they can know what to expect. It may be a good idea to confer with their teacher regarding the schedule so your role play can be genuine.
• Role Model. Share stories from your own life regarding how you handled stressful situations. Tailor your story to what your child is experiencing. For example, if your child is fearful, describe a situation in which you were afraid and how you coped with it. You can also read a story in a book that illustrates how different children cope with stressful situations.
Life is stressful. It is in how we cope with it that counts. Just think how better equipped your child will be for life after you help them through their school-time stress. Watching your child struggle is never fun– but teaching them lessons they’ll have for life is priceless.
Daniela Baker is a mother of two and a blogger at CreditDonkey, where she shares tips on college student credit cards and budgeting for success.