Managing Back-to-School Stress


By Gina McSheffrey-Emmons, PhD

Believe it or not, school is just around the corner! The thought of getting back into busy routines and all the stress that comes with the start of the new school year can be overwhelming. Saying good-bye to long summer days is difficult, but with good preparation and a positive mindset, you can successfully get back into the swing of things!

The new school year can trigger stress and anxiety for everyone. For children and teenagers, some stressors may include starting a new school, making new friends, coping with social anxieties, heavy workloads, preparing for major assessments, peer pressures, and demanding schedules with after school activities and sports, etc. For parents, this time of year may also be stressful and anxiety-provoking as you work to juggle and balance it all. Not only are you managing your own work obligations, household and financial responsibilities, arranging for childcare, and balancing after school and weekend activities, etc., you also have worries about your children’s social and academic success. Adjusting to new routines can take some time, but here are a few simple tips to help start the new school year off right!

Get Enough Sleep

During the summer, kids may be used to going to bed at later times as we all try to enjoy every ounce of daylight. However, it is important to start going to bed earlier as they get closer to the start of school, so that they are back to their normal sleep routine. To help prepare for a calm start to the night, be sure to turn off all devices, and plan to talk to your child before they go to sleep. You can talk about the day’s positive experiences and share what you are both looking forward to tomorrow. Participating in a calming activity before bed can also be helpful such as reading a book, using guided meditations, or doing some deep breathing exercises. Getting adequate sleep can help students to perform their best in school.

Plan Healthy Eating

With busy schedules, it may be difficult to always have healthy meals ready to go especially with picky eaters. Planning out healthy meals for the week or preparing them in advance is a great time-saver on those really busy nights. Any leftovers can be used for lunches and/or snacks the next day. A balanced diet including proper hydration can help with alertness and maintaining energy levels throughout the day.

Organize Family Time

Sometimes organizing family events, school activities, sports schedules, and birthday parties (just to name a few) can be a job in itself. It may be useful to organize all of these activities into one family calendar so everyone can visually see and plan for upcoming events. In today’s busy world, you can easily become overscheduled, that is why it’s important to plan for some downtime and family nights in order to make time for each other.  Bring back the good old-fashioned board games and movie nights for some family bonding fun!

Prepare Your Kids

Preparing your kids is key to ensure a smooth transition back to school. Some things to be mindful of include 1) making sure all summer work is completed before the first day of school; 2) keeping back-to-school talk positive by emphasizing what they are looking forward to; 3) normalizing any first-day jitters and reinforcing the supports they can access in school (e.g., teachers, counselors, etc.) if needed; 4) making plans to see some kids from school before the first day to help with the transition back; and 5) making sure they have outfits chosen and all of their supplies and backpacks prepared and ready to go the night before for an easier morning the next day. Sometimes creating visual schedules for different routines (e.g., after school, bedtime, morning) may be needed to streamline the process and foster independence.

Sit down with your kids and acknowledge that the new school year is a chance to start fresh and possibly come up with some goals they would like to accomplish this year. Maybe it’s becoming more organized, joining a new a club/activity or sport, getting a part-time job, volunteering in the community, or gaining experience in an area of interest, etc. Teaching kids that they can create positive experiences for themselves and accomplish self-made goals are powerful life lessons.

Prepare Yourself

The best advice for you, the parents during this time of adjustment, is to take a deep breath and take care of you. Managing your stress is important in teaching kids to manage their own. Setting a personal goal for yourself can also be helpful to avoid repeating negative patterns. Maybe something simple like telling yourself more positive things, or acknowledging that you will do your best with handling what you can control is enough to start the year with a better outlook.

Going back to school can be stressful as each year presents itself with different challenges. By identifying the areas that you want to change or improve upon, and making some preparations in advance, you can help to ensure the transition back is a smooth one. Here’s to the start of a great new school year!