GREENEVILLE, TN – It won’t be long now. The return of school is merely days away. And, unfortunately, so is the return of chaos for many of us.
“Many parents are experiencing the grief associated with losing the joyful lazy days of summer, filled with vacations and fun, and dreading the crazy, often stressful, back-to-school days,’’ Rhonda Malina, director of Takoma Outpatient Behavioral Services, said.
However, this time of year does not have to be a negative experience, Malina noted. “After all, you don’t want you or your kids to associate the upcoming school year with chaos and anxiety,” she said.
For this season, as with no other time of year, it is most important to plan to start out on the right foot, she said.
Malina offers these “Top 10 Back-to School Survival Tips for Parents”:
1. Be explicit -- Don’t assume that everyone automatically knows that this time is stressful for you and your kids. Remember, there are those who don’t have kids or haven’t had kids in the home for many years. So, you have to communicate your needs, plans, and goals to those around you. Let your family and friends know your schedule for this busy time. Also include your kids in this process - explain that you want this to be a fun, positive, adventurous time for all the family, and not full of whining, bickering, and discipline.
2. Be proactive, instead of reactive -- Planning ahead can literally eliminate a significant amount of back-to-school stress. For instance, create a family calendar and display it on the fridge. Schedule specific activities on the calendar. Putting the schedule where all can see it lowers anxiety and stress levels and prevents repetitive questions children have about when to expect this or that to occur. If they are 5 or 6, you may want to count down the days with them.
3. Divide up the responsibilities as much as possible -- Let dad take care of one of the kids’ back-to-school needs/shopping and mom take the other. Arrange for grandma or a friend to spend the day with the little ones while you take a school-aged child shopping. Be creative and don’t be afraid to ask others for help. Common sense goes a long way here. For example, don’t try to do needed school or clothes shopping with your other preschool-aged kids in tow.
4. Divide the time -- Don’t try to do it all in one day. Kids get tired, parents get hungry and before you know it, everything is in an upheaval. Maybe get shoes one day and clothing the next.
5. Eat to beat stress -- Make sure everyone is eating right. This is not the time to pull in for fast food just for convenience sake. For snacking, pack fruits and vegetables in a cooler and take it with you on your shopping day. If you do eat out, choose a place where you can order healthy foods for yourself and the kids, and where you can sit down and relax.
6. Schedule down-time -- Get enough rest. Stop, slow down. Take the kids to a park and let them run off energy while you read a book. Take frequent mental stress breaks. Listen to soft music, relax your muscles, pray or meditate. Get your heart rate to slow down and let your brain take a minivacation and make sure not to sacrifice a good night’s sleep.
7. Drink plenty of water and cut out caffeine -- Most people are chronically dehydrated which leads to fatigue and over-eating the wrong foods. Take a big bottle of water with you in your car, cooler or set it on your desk. Make sure your kids drink plenty of water and try to cut out some of the sugar.
8. Explore your own emotions -- Are you are nervous about your child attending a new school, encountering bullies, or having a very strict teacher this year? Well, it is especially important to remind ourselves at this time of year that anxiety is contagious. Anticipatory anxiety is common to us all but can be especially heightened at this time due to fears of the unknown and encountering a multitude of changes. In order to keep you and your child’s stress levels to a minimum it is important to do an inventory of your own thoughts and feelings, so as not to pass on your issues to your child. If need be, contact friends to chat about your concerns, or contact the school or teacher. Talking to parents who have “been there, done that” is also particularly helpful in order to eliminate your own anticipation anxiety.
9. Avoid overwhelming your child’s schedule -- Choose extracurricular activities very discriminantly! Kids can become overwhelmed with extremely busy schedules just as much as the adults chauffeuring them. Eliminate activities that kids are attending “because everyone else is doing it” or because “my mom made me take piano lessons, so you should too.” Really think about the reasons behind why the activity is important for the child. Discuss each potential extracurricular activity with your kids. Let them discuss why they are important to him/her and parents should do the same. Much of the stress today’s families are feeling may be self-inflicted due to overwhelming schedules.
10. Exercise-walk more, drive less -- It increases your endorphins. Use exercise as family time. Let your child walk with you and discuss the upcoming school year. What are their dreams, goals, and fears? Make this time a valuable and productive experience while decreasing your stress levels at the same time!