By Donna Kane, MA
Where did summer go? It seems like we were just stocking up on sunscreen, flip flops and beach towels. Now, those outdoor summer displays have been replaced by rows of school supplies, racks of sweaters, and autumn decorations.
How is it possible? In just a matter of days the big yellow buses will be rolling through neighborhoods, traffic will slow to a crawl and lazy summer nights chasing fire flies will be replaced by the tug of war over finishing homework.
Has your heart started pounding? Is your head is spinning? How do you think your kids are feeling? The truth is, for most parents and children, the anticipated start of a new school year brings a mixture of excitement and a little anxiety.
There are the logistics of school supplies, class schedules, daily routines, and homework assignments, of course. But, according to psychiatrist and author Gail Saltz, M.D., kids face different kinds of stress according to their age group. Pre-K through Grade School children may struggle with separation anxiety, learning and social issues. The stress often felt by middle school kids includes bullying, cliques, peer pressure, increasing academic pressures, and changes in their bodies.
How can we best teach our kids to deal with these pressures? The first thing we can do is reduce our own stress. Our children follow our lead. When facing the back-to-school stress, remember that many of the issues we might be losing sleep over right now are temporary and will fade away as everyone settles into the new year.
But it can’t hurt to have some stress-reducing tips and tricks to get through the transition:
- Breathe. We really do tend to hold our breath. In the midst of a stressful thought or activity, try breathing in to the count of 4, filling your lungs, and then slowly exhale (both times through the nose) to the count of 8. This will calm you down almost immediately.
- Get organized. Make a to-do list. Take an inventory of what you have and what you need. Keep a copy of the school supply lists in your car. Checking off items will give you a sense of accomplishment.
- Be prepared. Don’t wait until the last minute to get school supplies, books, clothes, haircuts, and medical exams. Let your kids participate in the shopping expeditions and choose notebooks, pencils and pens, etc. that suit their taste, within your budget.
- Keep it simple. Don’t overcomplicate things. If you are getting paperwork from school, read through the information and put important dates on the family calendar.
- Practice your routines. Have your children gradually transition to an earlier bedtime and start getting up earlier. If it’s hard, try laying out clothes and making lunch (inviting your kids to try out new menu ideas) the night before.
- Talk to your children about their hopes and fears for the year. Listen and be empathetic. You can even help them problem solve how they will handle tough situations that might arise. Ask them what they can do to turn their hopes into reality.
- Let go of expectations. Often, when we have expectations of how things are going to turn out or how people should or will behave, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Instead, go with the feeling of expectancy. It’s more of a feeling of anticipation and a willingness to go with the flow.
As the summer winds down, you might even want to create an end-of-summer family activity, such as picnicking in a nearby park, picking fruit together at a farm, seeing a movie, inviting friends over for a BBQ, or just roasting marshmallows together and looking up at the stars in the back yard. Then, take a deep breath and you’ll be ready for a new school year.
By Donna Kane, MA, School & Camp Consultant, Jewish Community Services
Please consider donating to the Community School Supply Drive being co-sponsored by Jewish Community Services, CHAI and Jewish Volunteer Connection. Donated supplies will help children whose families are experiencing hardship. Learn more about drop-off locations and supplies needed here.
Because parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual, JCS offers a variety of programs, services, education and support for parents and families with children of all ages. Click here or call 410-466-9200 to learn more.