… Beating Back-to-School Stress
By Kim Norton
Back to school can be a stressful time for the whole family – not just the kids! Maybe your child is starting a new school and you are worried they won’t “fit in” or maybe your child is about to start High School. Excuse me but when did that happen? Letting go can be hard but there are strategies you can implement to help ensure a successful transition for all.
There is no “one size fits all” or magic trick that will work for each and every individual or family as each situation is unique. However, the strategies listed below have been proven to work both in isolation and combination for many of my clients and for my own family.
Most of these strategies can also be used for our younger kids starting primary school. Just adapt to suit.
- Slowly bring the bedtime hour back. If you have been letting your kids stay up later over the holidays, bring their bed time back slowly. Start about 5 days before the return of school: just make their bedtime 15-20 minutes earlier each night and their waking time by the same amount each morning until they are back to their normal school time sleep schedule.
- Create (or return to) a calm and predictable bedtime routine. Let’s face it, a lot of routines go out the window over school holidays – it is part of the whole holiday experience! But when term-time looms, the bedtime routine needs to return. Kids thrive and suffer a lot less stress and anxiety when they can predict what is about to happen. Develop a routine for different nights of the week and then stick to it. Use a visual planner like a white-board or wall calendar that can easily be viewed by the whole family. A good bedtime routine starts about 3 hours before sleep so think about what your child is doing, watching and playing during this time and how it may be affecting their sleep.
- Reduce screen time, especially at night. It is probable that restrictions around screen time have been relaxed over the holidays. Studies suggest that screen time be restricted to 1-2 hours before bedtime as the light emissions from electronic devices can suppress the release of the hormone melatonin, which is important for regulating our sleep-wake cycle. Definitely consider this when constructing your bedtime routine.
- Our older primary school kids, and most certainly our high school kids, would have had homework or books to read over the holidays that they probably did not tell you about. Don’t wait till the week before school returns but check in with them a few weeks prior and make sure that they are on track to complete all homework tasks.
- Introduce your children to some breath work and meditation. This will empower your child to self regulate and manage their own stress when you are not around. One simple breathing technique for the older kids and teens is a one-minute meditation. Simply stop what you are doing and just concentrate on your breath for one minute: breathe in 1, breathe out, breathe in 2, breathe out. Just breathe. If your mind starts to wander back to those stressful thoughts just return to your breath and count as you inhale. You should get about 16 breaths in one minute. Our younger kids can simply stop and count 4 or 5 breaths. Everyone can then return to the task at hand feeling a lot calmer.
- Be prepared! Clean out the school bag (eek!) and ensure uniforms still fit and are in good condition. Try to have the school bag packed and uniform washed and ready to go a couple of days in advance. If your child has a study area or desk, make sure this is also clean and tidy and ready to go. (Bonus points if you can get them to clean their rooms!) Have the school lunch and snack ingredients on hand. Watching you rush around and listening to you stress the day before will not ensure a calm transition to school for anyone.
- Make sure every person in the family knows what is expected of them and when. Visual timetables can be a great resource: outline household chores, appointments, sporting events, social events and downtime (this is so important!). Downtime allows us time to play catch up for unplanned occurrences like illnesses and it gives our kids a chance to just ‘be’. If you or your child suffers with high anxiety then I suggest using a planner or visual schedule that only extends a week or two in advance. Looking at a schedule any longer than this can cause our perfectionists and worriers a lot more stress than is needed.
If you have been able to implement the above strategies you will have time for one last stress-free fling before school returns, without having to stress about anything school-related. Plan a family fun day out 1-2 days prior to the start of school. Start the school year off on a positive note feeling relaxed, connected and ready. Bring it on!
Kim is the founder of Rainbow Light Therapies and is a Holistic Counsellor specialising in stress and anxiety management for kids, teens and adults. Kim provides a unique, intuitive and individualised therapy approach and is runs a series of workshops at her studio in Langwarrin.
Also working with special needs kids, Kim is an NDIS registered provider.
Please see www.rainbowlighttherapies.com.au for more information.