Raise your hand if you are frazzled about school this year. Teachers and Families with school aged children are an acutely stressed group in our deeply stressed world. The uncertainty is stirring up the stress hormones. Reduce your stress first by taking time to decide about “the best plan” under the circumstances for your family, and then focus on making your home stress free.
I hope this post will help boost your family’s stress immunity, Beginning today, you can implement simple consistent strategies that will help your family de-stress for back to school success this year–No matter what the future holds in the classroom.
Back to School Stress
For academic year 2020 parents are anxious and considering alternative learning formats, and teachers are trying to figure out how to implement safety standards and prepare for virtual learning. The kids are watching and worrying about what is next. Everyone is talking about it, and not always respectfully. Although every return to school is fraught with some transitional stress, preparing students without a sense of what to expect is ramping up the worry-factor.
In general, when many things are out of your control, it’s best to focus on the areas that you can control–starting with you. As a parent, your role is key in setting the tone for back to school. To sooth everyone’s stress related irritability, bring back the basics to stress proof yourself and your home before school starts:
Speak positively. If you need to blow off steam, vent to your significant other, school board members, and friends (be careful). Allow yourself to feel relief once you have made your decision for this school year. In other words, don’t second guess yourself. Build your case for your decision for your family and move gently forward.
Be kind. All of the choices could have a divisive impact within your support system. Model kindness: “Our friends may choose differently and we wish them well, we are all doing the best we can.” Do not get into a power struggle with your student to defend your choice, be calm and matter of fact in responding to questions about changes.
Begin routines. Routines reduce the arguments over parent leadership, and add predictability which is a key concept in managing stress. Students will need extra practice to get ready for school after the long break. Refresh your Love and Logic skills to offer choices when you can, and build responsibility with empathy and consequences.
Get Buy-In. When possible, have your student help pick out the color, shape, and type of facial covering for pandemic life this fall. In today’s pandemic world, this is a form of self expression as much as back to school sneakers! Regardless of your personal opinion about mask wearing, it appears that this safety measure will be mandated for students returning to school buildings. It will take practice to be comfortable wearing a mask for extended time. Start now.
Stay Connected. Student and parent support systems may be separated this year due to different learning formats. Be intentional in keeping school friendships thriving by safe and predictable contact. Examples are: Board games, park time, and puzzles. These activities were positive strategies for managing the quarantine and still work well to keep socialization fresh and nourishing.
5 Mindful Exercises for Families
De-Stress Daily. This academic year will have many twists and turns. A fun fact to remember is chronic stress requires daily stress reduction. Take this “growth opportunity” to manage stress intentionally on a regular basis. Try these mindfulness techniques at home to get you started:
- 1. Laugh together. Laughter is known to reduce blood pressure, improve your mood, strengthen your immune system (!) and reduce the effects of isolation/loneliness. Find a book or television series that you can experience together. Don’t forget how enjoyable those family walks and bike rides were in the quarantine. Set aside a time to intentionally get the giggles going.
- 2. Pet therapy. Set aside some bonding time with Fido (Dog, Cat, Fish, Reptile,etc). Being mindful with a pet includes all of the senses. Begin this mindfulness practice by sitting still and quiet with the pet. Next, encourage your child to pay full attention to the pet. In full attention, when he/she is ready: add touch (if possible), smell, and listening to get to know the pet better. Pet’s are wonderful stress reducers, which is why I bring Dude to the office. Pets always emphasize BEING over doing. It gives us all a brain break, and the pets like it too!
- 3. Belly Breathing. Belly breathing is a stress busting basic. I like to teach it with bubbles so kids can “see their breath,” which helps with regulation. Begin by breathing deeply through the nose, hold it, then slowly and gently breathe out through the mouth. Calm breathing leaves a nice trail of evenly sized bubbles which are fun to pop (cue laughter as bonus). A few moments of bubble blowing can help reset a stressed student.
- 4. Hobby Quest. Hobbies make great companions, so explore a hobby your child finds interesting. Here are some popular hobbies for all abilities: Legos, building sets, bracelet making, crocheting, drawing, card collecting. Your child’s hobby will provide an extracurricular interest to think, plan, and anticipate during the day.
- 5. Art Breaks. On especially hard days, virtual or otherwise, drawing is a soothing activity. During the first few weeks of the quarantine, many of my young clients drew “the corona virus,” and beloved friends and grandparents that they missed. Once the picture is drawn, invite your child to share about it.
I want to encourage you to do the best you can in making a back to school decision for your family. Once you have a plan in place, be kind to yourself and others as you lead your family forward over the next nine months. If you think about it–We have been “doing the best we can” since March, so this school year is no different than the overall pandemic experience.
For your mental health be purposeful in your connection with family, friends, and other sources of support as you work together to de-stress for back to school success. For additional resources to help you manage stress this fall, take a look at Love and Logic, American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Health and Happiness,
Dr. Lisa Marotta