School is about to begin again, it is often a time of great anticipation for kids of all ages. It seems like summer just started and we are now looking at a brand new school year. Adults often think a child’s life is easy, but the reality is that childhood is full of stress and any change or transition can make life uneasy for your school-age child. Dr. Suzanna Smith, UF Extension Family Life Specialist, shares some insight about children and the stress they might experience going back to school, so I thought I would pass it on to you this week.
Usually stress is greatest during the beginning days and weeks of the new school year. Parents are very important in helping children manage stress and get off to a good start in school.
When school begins, it is a change of routine with new challenges. Whether it’s kindergarten, middle school or high school, your child is on the brink of something big; anxious about leaving familiar comforts and starting something new.
Stress can be bad or good. We really can’t go through life without some stress. It can be good when it motivates us to do our best or energizes us to try new things. Stress is bad when it becomes overwhelming and renders a person unable to deal with the pressures.
With too much stress, children may become anxious and fearful, creating problems with their physical and mental health, their relationships with their peers, and their school performance. Physical symptoms of stress might be headaches, stomach aches or nightmares. Common behaviors might range from withdrawing from activities unusual aggressiveness, crying or temper tantrums.
Supportive families and teachers can make the transition to school easier for children of all ages. There are several thing families can do to prevent stress, no matter the child’s age.
Help children prepare for the change. Children are less fearful when they know what to expect. Many schools now help parents and students get ready by offering open houses. Go the school for special programs and keep in touch with teachers on a regular basis.
Talk about school. Help your children talk about the day by asking simple questions. If you have a teenager, be there when they are ready to talk. Keep normal house routines, this helps them know what to expect of the day and evening.
Encourage your children to keep old friends and make new ones. For middle school students, starting with a friend makes the change easier. Children who are able to make new friends also do better adjusting to school.
Be positive. Help children see the upcoming changes as exciting and fun, but don’t deny that a child feels uncertain. Thinking and being positive helps children and adults deal with stress better. Spend time together. Do things you enjoy and have fun; schedule regular family meetings to get ready for the week at school and work.
Help kids develop coping skills. Children who know how to solve problems are better able to handle the difficulties they are bound to face when they enter school. Parents can help their children think things through and learn to get help when needed.
Manage your own stress. Children often pick up on their parents’ anxiety and this becomes another stressor, so stay calm. When under stress, children and parents need to try to stay calm. Take deep breaths. You can get through it and tell yourself and your child that things will be ok. Listen to your children and teenagers when they talk. Show your love and acceptance and avoid criticizing them.
Most children feel anxious the first days of school. If these feelings continue and the child is having nightmares, headaches or stomachaches, or wants to come home during the day, there may be a more serious problem. Consult your family doctor for professional advice.
Parents need to watch out for signs of stress in their children and do what they can ahead of time to prevent it. Parents can also help their children to manage stress by talking things over, thinking things through, relaxing and helping children build a strong network of caring friends.
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