Best Tips for Dealing with Back to School Stress
Suggestions for easing Your Teen’s Mind
Wow! Once again summer has raced by and back to school time is upon us. It seems that kids have to get back to school earlier and earlier every year, which sometimes seems to correlate to the time when it actually gets hotter and hotter.
Getting back to school can be stressful for the student who has enjoyed sleeping in a bit (it seems that the early hour that we start school really is not conducive particularly to Teens’ natural wake up rhythm). Or to the student who is starting high school, or just having concerns about new teachers, a new schedule, wondering if they’ll have friends, or feeling scared about all the work coming. Kids experience stress in response to the social dynamics at play with classmates, bullies, social media, and the socio-cultural-racial (and racist) world we live in.
Even if kids are excited to get back to school and looking forward to reconnecting with friends, they can experience stress as they make the change in their routine.
Of course, the stress can also be felt by the parents who have to get their kids back into an ‘early wake-up and get out the door quickly’ routine, and who have to deal with the frustrations or low energy or struggle that comes up about doing homework and other school-related projects. Or who are faced with fear and unease as they send their kids into potentially hostile and unsafe environments, that lack diversity or sensitivity to those kids’ needs.
Some parents may be happy to be back into the school routine and out of the challenging ‘summer time I’m bored’ routine, but as with any change (desired or not), there is some related stress as each person has to adapt to the new.
It’s important to remember that any change brings about some stress and we need to be mindful of that and make some room for the variety of responses to stress that can occur in ourselves and in our family (irritability, quick temper, tiredness, tearfulness, difficulty sleeping, restlessness, drama, grouchiness, withdrawal, intensified anxieties and worries, needing to talk a lot, sullenness, etc).
Here are some potentially fun and lighthearted ways to help your kids and teens to manage the back to school stress that they might be feeling. These are tools that your kids can learn and do, in order to be more present and therefore better able to deal with school and home life stress that is inevitable:
- Play the game of sounds – that is, write down for a few moments all the different sounds that you can hear. Your teen can do this by himself, or you can do it together and see who hears the most sounds, or take turns and go from one to the next person naming the sounds that you hear.
- Counting sounds – when you first arrive somewhere and you feel a little anxious, your teen can count the first 5 to 10 sounds that they hear. This can help them to settle in and get comfortable.
- For an entertaining video that illustrates the point of going from our fight/flight/freeze response (which happens automatically whenever we feel threatened) to feeling more at peace, watch “The Fly“ on YouTube. It demonstrates that what we resist persists, and helps us to be more accepting of whatever is – which allows the hard stuff to actually pass more easily.
- Listen to music. Have your teen identify a favorite song that makes them feel happy, sad, anxious, mad, etc. When listening to music they can listen for any silence that happens during the song or they can listen for one particular instrument only.
- They can use a breath ball, opening it as they breathe in and closing it as they breathe out. Count to four in, pause for the count of four, breathe out and count to four, and then pause for a count of four again. Keep repeating this. This helps to calm down any anxiousness. They can also breathe in thinking “I’m giving myself a hug,” and then breathe out thinking “I’m giving the whole world a hug.”
- The important thing is to build in purposeful pauses throughout their day, where they simply take a deep breath and check in with themselves to see how they’re feeling emotionally and physically, and to be kind to themselves, however they are.
- Do a mountain or lake visualization. When breathing in, say to yourself ‘I see myself as a mountain. Breathing out I feel strong and solid.’ They can visualize a tree or an animal or someplace that holds meaning for them and that they connect to a sense of calm.
- Parachute or scarf breathing. Toss a light scarf into the air and breathe in, and then allow yourself to breathe out at the same rate as the scarf as it falls.
- You and your teen can align your breath with each other and be a mindful mirror. Change your breath to mimic theirs. Let them vary their own breath any way they like, and you follow. Then switch.
- You might have mindful minutes with them by drawing with your finger on their back and having them guess what you’re drawing.
- Encourage them to have every interaction of a day be meaningful.
- Set limits on device use and screen time. Have designated tech-free areas in your home, or times in your week. Put your devices down too. Let alerts and reminders be reminders to be grateful about something or check in with your body.
All of these suggestions are tools to help be more mindful that are useful for your teen, as they’re getting back to school, as well as for yourself as you are adjusting to the next routine in your daily lives. Being mindful is about being present in the moment and paying attention to your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations, without judgment. Being mindful to your immediate experience helps to create more sense of calm and ease with whatever you are facing.
I’d love to hear from you. What’s helpful to you or your teen as you deal with back to school stress? What are some tricks you might have for creating calm in the midst of the storm?
If you or a teen that you care about is having difficulty making adjustments to changes in routine or dealing with adolescent issues, or you’d like more help with parent-teen interactions, please contact me for a parenting or teen therapy appointment.
For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.
Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
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