Managing The Stress of 'Back To School'

Parents of children ages 4-14 report a variety of stresses about the “back to school” process. While each parents individual story is unique, I have observed some common themes in families that learn to do it successfully.

First, it is important to recognize that this is a time of transition for everyone in the family. Certain routines that worked over the summer will need to be adjusted or redeveloped. Old, successful routines from last year need to be remembered. I worked with a father who annually “forgot” how helpful it is to make lunches for everyone in the evening (right before dinner, before leftovers are put away), rather than in the morning. “Every year around Halloween, it would dawn on me…I had this figured out last year!” So, take a moment. Recognize that change is hard. Look at what works for your family, and reflect on what worked last year.

Second, parents are at their best when they adjust their perspective visa-a-vis their children. “It’s like they’re constantly changing the game. As soon as you catch up, they sprint ahead”, one mother told me. When you are with your children everyday it is easy to forget the magic of development and maturity. Back-to-school time is an excellent opportunity to take a moment and read up on your children’s current stages of development. Many great resources exist, including the simple and easy to read “Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom ages 4-14” info sheets.

Finally, managing your children’s needs and anxieties is an effective way to succeed and be happy in a time of transition. Again, each child is unique, but two themes seem universal. First is the separation from the home environment. “It doesn’t feel like home, like my family” was how one child described the difficulty of going back to school. Second, is the challenge of more difficult academic work. “Why does is always get harder?” one child asked me, woefully. Help your children to see the best in their teachers and (re)connect with their classmates. And nothing replaces spending time with your kids. Sit with them when they do their homework. Both your presence and your knowledge will build their confidence early in the year. And as Ben Franklin said, “Well begun is half done.”