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Back to School Stress Busters

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Whether you have a kindergartner or college student, the annual back to school preparations and schedule can be stressful.  Financial, social, and emotional stresses can tax parents and kiddos alike.  Financially, there are school supplies and clothes to be purchased.  Socially, students may be prepping themselves to say goodbye to old friends and meet new ones.  Emotionally, students, parents, and even grandparents may be dealing with separation anxiety and fear of the unknown.  At the same time, the beginning of the school year brings promise and hope.  It is an exciting time full of new opportunities.   Studies agree that organization, preparation, and mindset are important tools for a successful transition to the fall school-year schedule. Here are some tips for reducing stress and zoning in on the positive:

Organization

  • Organize clutter – A 2011 Princeton University study showed that “when the environment is cluttered, the chaos restricts your ability to focus and limits your brain’s capacity to process information.”  Basically, when too much stuff is on the counters, tables, and floors, your brain gets cluttered and you get stressed. Before school starts, conquer the clutter. Make a schedule and tackle a different room (or counter, etc.) each day. First, determine what to save, what to throw out, what to recycle, and what to donate.  Second, take the saved items and find a home for them in boxes, on shelves, on hooks, or in bins.   

  • Develop a daily to-do chart for all family members – Even the youngest students can “read” a picture chart and participate in the daily responsibilities.  Before the school year starts, determine the chore list for each person in the household and post it on the refrigerator or on each child’s door with their duties highlighted.  Duties may include: make lunch, lay out clothes for next day, prepare backpack, clean off counters, wash sports uniform, etc.   

  • Work ahead for healthy snacks and lunches – Once a week, prepare foods into single servings sizes for on the go healthy snacks and lunches.  For example, prepare single serving size baggies of carrots, celery, peppers, nuts, trail mix, or whole wheat crackers and cheese.  Place them eye level and toward the front of the refrigerator for easy access when packing lunches and sport bags.  

Organize clutter – A 2011 Princeton University study showed that “when the environment is cluttered, the chaos restricts your ability to focus and limits your brain’s capacity to process information.”  Basically, when too much stuff is on the counters, tables, and floors, your brain gets cluttered and you get stressed. Before school starts, conquer the clutter. Make a schedule and tackle a different room (or counter, etc.) each day. First, determine what to save, what to throw out, what to recycle, and what to donate.  Second, take the saved items and find a home for them in boxes, on shelves, on hooks, or in bins.   

Develop a daily to-do chart for all family members – Even the youngest students can “read” a picture chart and participate in the daily responsibilities.  Before the school year starts, determine the chore list for each person in the household and post it on the refrigerator or on each child’s door with their duties highlighted.  Duties may include: make lunch, lay out clothes for next day, prepare backpack, clean off counters, wash sports uniform, etc.   

Work ahead for healthy snacks and lunches – Once a week, prepare foods into single servings sizes for on the go healthy snacks and lunches.  For example, prepare single serving size baggies of carrots, celery, peppers, nuts, trail mix, or whole wheat crackers and cheese.  Place them eye level and toward the front of the refrigerator for easy access when packing lunches and sport bags.  

Preparation

  • Start early to prevent sleep loss – Everyone needs proper sleep to function well.  Preschoolers, ages 3-5, need 10-13 hours of sleep per night.  School-aged children, 6 to 13 year olds, need 9 to 11 hours and teens need 9 – 9.5 hours of snooze time.  The reality is most families are relaxed about bed time during the summer.  To avoid sleep deprivation and stress, begin going to bed earlier and getting up a tad earlier (mimic the school week schedule) starting two to three weeks before school starts. Being well rested will help keep everyone’s stress levels down.

  • Do a walk-through – Visit the school and if possible teachers before the start of school. Take fear of the unknown out of the equation by visiting the hallways, lunchroom, and even bathrooms.  If your child knows what to expect, he or she will be less anxious.

  • Prepare a good breakfast every morning – A complete, balanced breakfast will energize you and your child for the day to come.  Yogurt with berries and nuts or granola topping, eggs with wheat toast and fruit, oatmeal with berries, or even leftover rice with an egg and veggies is a great way to start the day.  Avoid sugary cereals and toaster pastries which spike blood sugar but don’t provide any long lasting nutrition for the morning.

Start early to prevent sleep loss – Everyone needs proper sleep to function well.  Preschoolers, ages 3-5, need 10-13 hours of sleep per night.  School-aged children, 6 to 13 year olds, need 9 to 11 hours and teens need 9 – 9.5 hours of snooze time.  The reality is most families are relaxed about bed time during the summer.  To avoid sleep deprivation and stress, begin going to bed earlier and getting up a tad earlier (mimic the school week schedule) starting two to three weeks before school starts. Being well rested will help keep everyone’s stress levels down.

Do a walk-through – Visit the school and if possible teachers before the start of school. Take fear of the unknown out of the equation by visiting the hallways, lunchroom, and even bathrooms.  If your child knows what to expect, he or she will be less anxious.

Prepare a good breakfast every morning – A complete, balanced breakfast will energize you and your child for the day to come.  Yogurt with berries and nuts or granola topping, eggs with wheat toast and fruit, oatmeal with berries, or even leftover rice with an egg and veggies is a great way to start the day.  Avoid sugary cereals and toaster pastries which spike blood sugar but don’t provide any long lasting nutrition for the morning.

Mindset

  • Present your most positive self – Even if you are anxious about seeing your little one (or college one) off, conceal your worries and present a positive attitude.  Children pick up on anxiety.  Lend a listening ear, support and encourage students as they head off to new waters.

  • Embrace change as an opportunity – The new academic year is a time to grow and develop new skills.  This change can draw out new creativity, talents, and abilities.  Concentrate on the positive things to come from change (even if it is a bit anxiety provoking!)

  • Listen first, talk second – Ask open ended questions such as “What are you most excited about?” or “You seem a little nervous. What about school concerns you the most?”  And then listen.  If your child expresses some negativity, don’t discount it.  Acknowledge the feelings and then work toward finding solutions.  This is often a great time to talk about how to handle bullies and peer pressure.

  • Discuss at dinner – Children whose families eat together on a regular basis achieve greater social and academic success. The open conversation also promotes communication which helps to eliminate surprises thereby reducing stress.  Dinner is the perfect time to discuss the day, laugh, and problem solve if necessary.  Again, ask open-ended questions, “What was the best thing/silliest thing/grossest thing that happened at school today?”  

Present your most positive self – Even if you are anxious about seeing your little one (or college one) off, conceal your worries and present a positive attitude.  Children pick up on anxiety.  Lend a listening ear, support and encourage students as they head off to new waters.

Embrace change as an opportunity – The new academic year is a time to grow and develop new skills.  This change can draw out new creativity, talents, and abilities.  Concentrate on the positive things to come from change (even if it is a bit anxiety provoking!)

Listen first, talk second – Ask open ended questions such as “What are you most excited about?” or “You seem a little nervous. What about school concerns you the most?”  And then listen.  If your child expresses some negativity, don’t discount it.  Acknowledge the feelings and then work toward finding solutions.  This is often a great time to talk about how to handle bullies and peer pressure.

Discuss at dinner – Children whose families eat together on a regular basis achieve greater social and academic success. The open conversation also promotes communication which helps to eliminate surprises thereby reducing stress.  Dinner is the perfect time to discuss the day, laugh, and problem solve if necessary.  Again, ask open-ended questions, “What was the best thing/silliest thing/grossest thing that happened at school today?”  

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org or 585-335-4327.  

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