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Helping Kids Deal With Back-to-School Stress

image retrieved from kirkcrady.wordpress.com

I happened to come across the now-viral video clip of a little boy being asked if he would miss his mom on the first day of school. A question to which he promptly exhibits visibly with quick tears that ‘yes,’ indeed—he will. The shot shows him running into the safe arms of his mother, with an embarrassed reportor left to apologize.

My own children, different in every way, have varied responses to stress. Lately, I have seen tears and anxiety within one more so than the others. Tears coming quickly in a range of situations. The other night, I happened to mention that I had some spots due to infected bug bites. I said goodnights and went downstairs for the evening, only to hear feet behind me not soon after. What did I mean by spots? Was I going to be okay? With a little assurance and some hugs, the anxiety abated for the time. Enough for her to go back to bed, anyway.

But our little encounter left me to briefly wonder where the stress was coming from and why.

Of course, we are coming up to that time of the year again, a time that parents anticipate and some kids wait for, while others drag their feet. The start of school—just one of the many transitions times in life that we will encounter. While we often think about parental stress associated with the beginnings of new activities, I wonder how often we remember that kids get stress too.

The American Psychological Association, along with Mary Alvord, PhD., offer six tips for parents helping kids cope with back-to-school: practice routines (sleep, lunch, bedtimes) well before the first big day, get to the know the kids on the bus route and in your child’s class, talk about your child’s fears and anxieties openly with them (withholding judgments), show lots and lots of empathy and then find the supports in your child’s school and community that will make the adjustment that much easier.

As a kindergarten teacher (and soon to be Grade 1 teacher as well), I recognize that students will come to me with their hearts and minds full of wonder, questions, fears and excitement. But these students are not the only ones feeling these emotions. As teachers, we do well to sense within our students both the anxiety and the excitement that new school routines and schedules bring to these children’s lives.

Willow Dea, Change Management Consultant, offers the following suggestions for teachers—ways which we can help our students adjust to life back in the classroom, and these include watching for over-stimulation in the classroom which can overwhelm some children, learning your students “learning styles”, along with making sure your students feel emotionally safe. She includes ten tips for parents and teachers which I have summarized as follows:

1. Set clear boundaries and guidelines and offer fair rules for support. Be consistent.
2. Offer children unstructured playtime so that they can use their imaginations.
3. Exercise, rest, nutrition, healthy meals, downtime, and laughter are all precursors for good health.
4. Take time away from technology. Encourage quiet and calm for part of your day.
5. Be the example for your students of managed stress. Parker Palmer states: “We teach who we are.”
6. Show students you care in the ways you know how.
7. Breathe.  Structure your day to allow for silence once in a while.
8. Listen to calming music. Turn the lights off. Let kids put their heads down on their desks and tune-out for a minute or two.
9. Talk with kids about what stresses them. Help them deal with it.
10. And don’t forget to make humor a big part of your day. 😉

All these, super suggestions for teachers (and parents) in knowing how to deal with children’s stress within the home and classroom. Never forgetting that the ways in which we take time to show compassion for other people and their unique situations (from children to adults) will go a long way in helping others be the best that they can be in that moment in time.

Might we also remember that small acts of kindness, along with the presence of caring, kind people, can serve to make an important impact in a person’s day. Let us live our lives so that when others think of kindness and caring, they think of us (quote taken from H. Jackson brown, Jr.).

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