Back-to-School Stress: How to Cope with it?
By: Jayasree Nandagopal
Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist
As summer ends and the new academic year begins, the excitement of returning to school is often mixed with feelings of stress and anxiety. Back-to-school stress is a common experience for students, parents, and even teachers. Whether it’s the anticipation of new challenges, the pressure to perform well, or the fear of the unknown, these stressors can take a toll on everyone involved.
Some Tips to Ease Back-to-School Stress
Time Management: One of the biggest stressors for students is managing their time effectively. Help them create a study schedule that balances academics, extracurricular activities, and personal time. This will reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed and improve their overall productivity.
Interpersonal Struggles: Many children find school unnerving. Meeting new classmates or returning to old ones and the fear of being bullied, especially if they have experienced it in previous years, can be daunting for some students. Arrange play dates with familiar peers before school starts. It has been proven that the presence of a familiar peer during school transitions can ease the process considerably. Encourage them to join clubs or activities that align with their interests, which can foster new friendships and build confidence.
Academic Struggles: Fear of failure and the pressure to excel academically can be overwhelming. Remind students that it’s okay to make mistakes and that learning is a journey. Encourage open communication and provide support when they encounter academic challenges.
Listen to Your Child: Engage in open conversations with your child about their concerns and feelings related to going back to school. Listen without judgment and offer reassurance when needed. Your support and understanding can go a long way in alleviating their stress.
Establish Routines: Setting up consistent daily routines can help children feel more in control and reduce anxiety. Ensure they get enough sleep, have healthy meals, and engage in physical activities to promote overall well-being. A week or two before school, start getting them back on their school-day routine.
Manage Your Expectations: While it’s natural to want the best for your child, be mindful of setting unrealistic expectations. Each child is unique, and success comes in various forms. Celebrate their efforts rather than focusing solely on outcomes.
Create a Positive Learning Environment: Foster a warm and inclusive classroom atmosphere where students feel safe to express themselves and ask questions. Positive reinforcement and encouragement can help students feel more at ease in their academic pursuits.
Be Mindful of Workload: Understand that students may be juggling various subjects and responsibilities. Avoid overwhelming them with excessive assignments or assessments, particularly during the initial weeks of the school year.
Promote Stress-Relief Activities: Incorporate short breaks or stress-relief activities into the daily routine. Breathing exercises, stretching, or quick mindfulness sessions can help students reset and refocus during the day.
Red Flags that Indicate that Back-to-School Anxiety is Cause for Concern:
- Child continues to show school-related distress even after the first month or so.
- Tantrums in the mornings when separating from parents or caregivers and refusing to go to school.
- Avoidance of normal activities inside or outside of school.
- Somatic symptoms such as stomachaches, fatigue, sleep issues.
Consulting a mental health professional can help children and families understand their child’s problems and work together on resolving them. There are several ways to address anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) provides children and their caregivers skills to confront their anxiety and address it appropriately. Some children may need medication to treat their symptoms.
Back-to-school stress is a natural reaction to the changing environment and increased responsibilities that come with a new academic year. By acknowledging these stressors and implementing effective coping strategies, students, parents, and teachers can navigate this transitional period with greater ease and confidence.
Remember that communication, understanding, and a supportive environment are essential in helping everyone involved adapt and thrive during the back-to-school season. Together, we can make the start of the school year an exciting and positive experience for everyone.