The long days of summer are drawing to a close and a new chapter is about to begin. September is the start of a new school semester and with that comes excitement, nerves and probably some stress and anxiety. If you are the parent of a child starting a new school semester the to-do lists are endless and back-to-school anxieties can surface. But change can be exciting and a new semester brings with it new possibilities and many things to look forward to. Don’t let stress override excitement. Take a look at our tips to help reduce back-to-school stress:
Organisation is key: Having too many things flying about your head is a recipe for stress and panic. When we have a huge list of things to do our brain constantly frets over the tasks we haven’t done and actually interferes with our abilities to plan tasks . Just like an app running in the background of your smartphone drains the battery this constant mulling over of uncompleted tasks takes over our attentional abilities leaving us unable to focus on the tasks we can do now. One way to trick your brain into switching off this over-activity is to write down what you are going to do and when you are going to do it . Don’t just write a list of tasks to do over the next month, write down what task you will do each week. The simple act of planning exactly when you will do something turns off that background fretting and leaves our facilities free to enjoy other activities and calmly tick-off that to-do list.
Give them some control: Feeling in control of your life is hugely important for your health and happiness. When adults feel that they don’t have control over what is happening to them they have higher levels of stress and a greater risk of getting sick . Children and adolescents don’t have much control over the big things in their lives but you can give your child control over the small things. Let them choose what pencil case they want for the year or what healthy lunch they want on the first day back. This will not only leave them excited about using their new things, and therefore about going to school to try them, but it will also give them some sense of control over a big change in their lives.
Avoid absolutes: Try to avoid telling your children that they are naturally good at one subject or not good at another. An important predictor of how children do at school is whether they have an entity or an incremental view of intelligence. This means whether they believe that intelligence is fixed (entity) or can be changed (incremental). Children who have incremental view of their abilities – those who believe that if they study they will get better at a subject – do better in school than those with an entity view . The reason for this is that children with an entity view of intelligence think that they have no control over how well they do in the school as the result is predestined. For example, if a child thinks that they are bad at maths (even if they are good at other things) they won’t have the confidence or motivation to try harder in maths class and, every time they do badly as a result, their belief that they are bad at maths will be reinforced. On the other hand, if a child thinks that they are good at maths not because they work hard but just because they are then they won’t have the abilities to cope with a situation in which they do poorly in a test because they can’t explain why. Children with incremental views of intelligence don’t balance everything on the results of a test but instead believe that if they work a bit harder on a difficult topic they will do better. This leaves them less stressed and better able to cope with failure. If your child is anxious about their school abilities talk to them about how much they progressed last year in a subject they initially found difficult. Try to avoid phrases such as ‘you’re not good at maths but you are good at English’. Instead use phrases such as ‘look how much better you did in maths at the end of last year compared to at the start, you really worked hard’. Looking back on past difficulties can give a sense of control and help to put new worries into perspective.
Adjust to regular bedtimes: Sleep is important for everyone but it is particularly crucial for children and adolescents. Children up to the age of 12 can need as much as 10-12 hours of sleep per night and teenagers need 8-9 hours. When children don’t get enough good quality sleep they are not able to concentrate and do poorly in school . Children need a lot of sleep for a number of reasons. Firstly, when children are in school they are learning huge amounts of new information every day and the brain needs sleep in order to process and retain those memories . Secondly the brain is still forming and developing right through childhood and adolescence. One part of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex, is not fully developed until as late as the early twenties. Children need a lot of sleep to help their development and to allow them to properly process information in these still-developing parts of the brain. Sleep disruption is more harmful to children’s concentration levels than to adults’ because of their still-changing brains . If you are finding it difficult to get to bed or to help your child sleep check out our blog on sleep. Start earlier bed times a few days before they go back to school to help children adjust to a new schedule after a summer of freedom. This will avoid sleepy tears on the first day back and help them to enjoy their first day back with all of their friends.
Children are very attune to emotions and can pick up on your stresses and anxieties without you realising so don’t forget to look after yourself as well. Take some time out to relax amidst all of the organisation and enjoy the last days of summer as you calmly prepare for a new school term.
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