How to ease back-to-school stress

Children feeling scared or nervous about school starting is common, and parents may worry about how they will adjust. Some kids dwell on who will be in class, will they make friends and what will the teacher be like, while others have special challenges that can make school more difficult, said clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Markham, founder of Aha! Parenting and author of “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids.”

Children feeling scared or nervous about school starting is common, and parents may worry about how they will adjust.

Some kids dwell on who will be in class, will they make friends and what will the teacher be like, while others have special challenges that can make school more difficult, said clinical psychologist Dr. Laura Markham, founder of Aha! Parenting and author of “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids.”

This fall, children may worry about leaving the safety of their home and returning to school, being in close contact with others amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Markham said.

Some of the signs a child may feel anxious about school include:
• Procrastination getting ready
• Crying before school
• Stomachaches
• Acting needy and overwhelmed
• Acting short-tempered with parents or siblings
• Fighting with parents
• Wetting the bed
• Less appetite than usual

“Basically, think fight (challenging behavior), flight (not attending to getting ready) or freeze (regression and collapse),” Markham said.

To relieve stress, visit the school, even if a child is familiar with it.

“If the kids will be allowed to play on the playground, then playing on the playground now, before school opens, will help the child feel comfortable there and look forward to being at school,” Markham said.

Laughter is also a terrific stress reliever, so playing silly games about the return to school can be helpful, she said.

“Encourage your child to share concerns by asking what he thinks his new grade will be like. Normalize any fears,” Markham said. Help your child brainstorm how they will handle situations they’re worried about happening.

“Your message should be that it is normal to feel a bit worried when you encounter any new situation, but your child has handled all kinds of difficult things in the past successfully, and they will be able to handle this,” Markham said.

Younger kids need to bond with their teachers so that they are comfortable in the absence of parents. If possible, meet them in advance.

“Take a photo of your child with the teacher and put it up on your refrigerator and talk to it, which builds a relationship between your child and the teacher,” Markham said.

Reading books together is a good way to start conversations and help get a child excited about what they can expect, Markham said.

“If you’re new in town, make a special effort to meet other kids in the neighborhood. … Even if your child is not new to the school, find out what other kids are in her class and arrange a playdate so she’ll feel more connected if she hasn’t seen these kids all summer,” Markham said. “If you can arrange for your son or daughter to travel to school that first morning with a child he or she knows, even if they aren’t in the same classroom, it will ease last-minute jitters.”

Offer a child reassurance that they will have fun, that the school can reach you if necessary and that your love is always with them even when you aren’t, Markham said.

Even young children can benefit from mindfulness practices such as listening to a guided meditation to help them relax, she said. Start when children are little and they will use this invaluable habit throughout their childhood and into high school or college.

“Orchestrate small separations to practice saying goodbye, and develop a parting routine, such as a hug and saying something like, ‘I love you, you love me, have a great day and I’ll see you at three!’ ” Markham said.

Give your child a small token to hold on to, such as a cut-out heart with a love note, a scarf or a small stone you found together, that they can keep in their pocket while you’re apart and give back upon your return.

“Most kids like to have a picture of the family in their backpacks,” Markham said.

—Melissa Erickson | More Content Now

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The Repository
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