Class is in session! We have officially transitioned from a laid-back summer to a hectic school year. According to the American Psychological Association, back to school is the most stressful time of year for a family and can affect the adults as well as the children. Even though the dreaded first day of school is over, your family may still be feeling some panic.
Parents and students can have a lot of “what if” thoughts racing around in their heads. Parental “what ifs” may sound like: “What if I don’t understand his homework? What if he’s late for school in the morning? What if no one sits with her at lunch?” Student “what ifs” may conjure up thoughts similar to: “What if the next assignment is too difficult? What if my best friend is mad at me? What if I’m late for class again?”
Families can help each other through this stressful time. Parental concerns may already include finances, time management and family, health or employment issues. They may need to manage their own back-to-school blues, and miss their children’s feelings of worry and anxiety. Stop and listen to one another. Empathize with your child’s concerns and find a way to build resilience together. Encourage your children to share their feelings and concerns about the school year. Ask them to think about things they liked about their previous school year, and what they are excited about and what things might be making them anxious about school, and validate those feelings. Opening up the lines of communication leads to more opportunities to address how to deal with peer pressure and bullies, making friends and other important topics; it lets your children know that you are there to support them.
Back to school stress doesn’t always happen during the first week or weeks leading up to the new school year. Even though school has already begun, it’s not too late to calm those nerves! Small alterations can make a big difference.
Here are a few ideas:
• Set the alarm to wake up earlier. Remember that morning routines change between summer and back to school; make sure enough time is allotted for getting ready in the morning.
• Have the kids share their input and let them help design a study area. An ideal study area should have as little distractions as possible, i.e. NOT the kitchen table. Make sure the area has plenty of light and is well stocked with school supplies.
• It may also be a good idea to plan on packing lunches, choosing outfits and getting backpacks ready on weeknights.
• Your child’s school is here to help! If you or your student(s) are experiencing school related stress or anxiety, contact the school counselor or administration. Express your concerns and collaborate with them on ways to make this school year enjoyable.
Outreach Teen & Family Services  is a nonprofit, confidential counseling service. We offer programs to youth age 5 to 21, parents and families, in a welcoming, supportive environment. This column is partially underwritten by the Mt. Lebanon Police Association. 412-561-5405.