Change can be hard for everyone, and as exciting as the start of a new school year can be, it comes with its own sort of stress. As parents, we often think of the stress it brings to us with the school-supply shopping, change in our schedules, and the tuition or fees that take a toll on the budget. We know that it’s a stressful time for educators during which they must prepare for a new group of students, often get to know new staff, and continue their learning to improve their craft. In addition to all of this stress for the adults in our community during back-to-school, we can’t forget about the stress it creates for our kids.
Many children are eager to return to school each fall and look forward to re-connecting with their teachers and peers. For other children, however, returning to school is not such a joyous event. It can remind them of past difficulties they’ve had in school or fill them with uncertainty about the change that each new year brings. For these young learners, the stress they experience can make it difficult for the school year to get off on the right foot.
As parents or caregivers, we can do things to help all of our children be as prepared as possible for a healthy, successful year of learning. First, we should take a moment to make sure we understand how our children are feeling. In the midst of our back-to-school to-do list, we might forget to slow down and notice how it seems to be affecting our young ones. If your child is excited, this can be a great time to reinforce their excitement and energy for learning. You can talk about what they’d like to accomplish this year, or what they’d like to improve on from years prior.
If you notice your child is more stressed than excited, it can be a great opportunity to talk through with them where that stress is coming from. If they are nervous about meeting their new teacher, ask the school if there is a way for the student to meet their teacher before the first day of school. If they’re nervous about the work, remind them of their successes in the past and help them make a plan to make this year their best.
For all of our kids, they can benefit from understanding better their new routine. Walk through with your child what their days will look like once the year begins. Writing this down or creating a chart can be helpful. Remember that during all the change happening at the beginning of the school year, it can be a good time to step back from new changes in other parts of their life. Once they get in the groove of the new school year, you can work together to change their routine.
The stress our kids feel at the beginning of the school year matters. We know that when kids are overwhelmed with stress, it limits their ability to learn and makes it hard for them to control their behavior. We can all play a role in helping prepare our children for success in the coming school year and more importantly, prepare them to better handle stress in all parts of their life. If you’re interested in learning more about stress and parenting, go to www.aliveandwellstl.com.
By Joe Yancey
Chair of the Community Advisory Board of the St. Louis Regional Health Commission
Executive Director of Places for People