Minimizing Back-to-School Stress

Back-to-School is an exciting time of year, but also a stressful one for both parents and kids. Here are our recommendations for minimizing back-to-school stress and anxiety:

Manage Expectations

In a society that strives for perfectionism, we are bombarded with pressures to perform at our highest level.  But life doesn’t always run smoothly — messes happen, homework is forgotten, schedules are broken, and tantrums are had.  Sometimes just getting by is good enough.

When we accept that as parents we should be working towards progress not perfection, we free ourselves from unrealistic expectations that we impose on ourselves and our children.  Wanting to be perfect, look perfect, and perform perfectly is a setup for disappointment, shame, and self-criticism.

Accepting your own and your children’s imperfections will lead to a healthier, happier school year for both you and your children. Focus on effort, improvement, and positive peer relationships over grades alone.  Show them you care about their social, emotional, and physical health and wellbeing alongside their academic performance.  

Failure is healthy

Parents want their children to grow to be successful and self-sufficient, but often get in the way of all of those things by “helping” too much.  One of the biggest mistakes parents can make is rescuing their children when they fail. Resiliency is built through failure. Success is achieved by correcting and learning from mistakes. When your kids fail, handle it with empathy and love; help your children reframe their failures as stepping stones to success. 

Talk to your child about your own failures and imperfections.  Acknowledging that you aren’t perfect sets an important foundation for communication surrounding your children’s own insecurities and self-criticism.  Let your kids know that everything you try doesn’t work out as planned and empower them to make positive changes in the future.  

Praise your children for completed products but also encourage them to see successes as they go along. When we focus only on their outcomes, we fail to celebrate their journey.  When things get tough along the way, provide them with sufficient encouragement for them to continue, but whatever you do, do not take over. When adults finish up a task, it gives the kids the message that they can’t do it well enough or quick enough. This discourages them from wanting to try again.

Redefine success

Success isn’t exclusively about outcomes.  While it easy to celebrate your children when they win awards and get good grades, positive risk-taking and perseverance should also be rewarded.  Children build confidence by not quitting or giving up when faced with a challenge, whether they’re trying a new sport, putting together a difficult puzzle, or resolving a dispute with another child. By focusing on the journey instead of the destination, you’re steering your children in the direction of strength and resiliency.

Practice self-care

Your physical health is a crucial component of your mental health.  Manage stress levels with a healthy diet, proper hydration, regular exercise, and plenty of sleep.  Parents often put their children’s needs before their own, but parental self-care is essential for children’s emotional well-being.  Take time to care for yourself, and model healthy behaviors for your kids. Encourage your children to make healthy choices at mealtime, favor physical activity over screen-time, and ensure that they are going to bed at the proper bedtime.  

For more helpful tips, check out last month’s blog post on Healthy Habits for the School Year!