5 Tips for Beating Back-to-School Stress
Whether you’re dropping your firstborn off at kindergarten or packing lunches for a pair of preteens, a new school year can amp up stress levels for parents and kids alike.
“Whether your child is going back to the same school or starting at a new one, back-to-school season is a time of both newness and transition,” says Stacy S. Kim, Ph.D., an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach and the founder of Life Junctions LLC, a Career and Life Coaching practice that specializes in helping high-achieving women and parents achieve balance in their families and their professional lives.
It’s not unusual for kids and parents to feel excited, nervous or even overwhelmed as the school year begins. However, Kim says parents can take steps to minimize back-to-school stress.
- Schedule downtime. Adjusting to a new routine, new teachers and interactions with friends can leave kids and parents feeling run-down. “Parents always seem to be surprised by how exhausted they are when children start school again,” Kim says. By incorporating—and enforcing—rest in the form of earlier bedtimes, set times for play or designated technology-free times, you can recharge your batteries and help your kids do the same.
- Acknowledge anxieties. Many parents tend to deny, dismiss or diminish their children’s back-to-school anxieties, Kim says. “Parents are eager to make things smooth for their children. This is why expressions like, ‘You have nothing to worry about,’ are familiar in many households.” Instead, Kim suggests a “coach approach” to kids’ concerns. “Sometimes, it’s more helpful to make an observation or ask a powerful question. For example, ‘I can see you’re having trouble deciding what to wear. You want to make a good impression, don’t you?'”
- Focus on growth and learning. “Research shows that when children focus on the learning process as opposed to outcomes, they are likely to be more resilient, try harder and enjoy learning more,” Kim says. She recommends that parents replace statements such as, “Good job,” or “You’re so smart,” with feedback praising effort (“I can see you really worked hard,” or “You tried a different strategy and figured it out!”).
- Discourage multitasking. “Both children and parents believe it’s better to do more than one thing at a time, but multitasking actually decreases your ability to be focused and productive,” Kim says. She encourages her coaching clients to employ a kitchen timer. “Set the timer for 20 minutes and ask yourself, ‘What is the right thing for me to do right now?’ Sometimes, the right thing is to take a break or a walk. At other times, it might be to fold laundry, clean out your email or draft just one paragraph of the report you’ve put off writing. This exercise helps you focus, break down large tasks into manageable chunks and use time more intentionally.”
- Tackle your next project. “For many parents, sending children back to school frees up more time to start something new,” Kim says. She advises starting small by tackling one project at a time and taking one step at a time toward accomplishing it. “If your project is to clean out the garage, your very first action might be to get a garbage bag. If your project is to find a job, your first step might be, ‘Find Jill’s number and ask her to coffee to discuss how she found her job.'”
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