How to help your child — and yourself — cope with back to school
Returning to the rhythm and routine of school can bring a sigh of relief to some, but it can be a source of stress for others. No matter where you and your child are on the scale, manage the transition and school year with some tips and strategies courtesy of Tammy Lynn Blahy, Ph.D., Master of Social Work and Canadian Certified Counsellor with Manitoba Blue Cross’s Employee Assistance Program. And because time is a hot commodity for parents, we broke them down into bite-sized pieces.
The transitional period
- Establish and practice routines before the big day. Establish old or new routines about two weeks before the start of school. Use a gradual transition to shift bedtime and wake-up routines.
- Normalize your child’s feelings that can arise before and during the transition as well as throughout the year. Whether it’s anxiety, fear, sadness or excitement, it’s important for them to know that having one or all of these feelings is normal and other students are having them too.
- Reassure your child to reduce worry and anxiety and build confidence. Telling them that you will be there to support them and that there are caring adults in school to help them can comfort them.
Communication is everything
- Encourage your child to talk and listen. Give them a safe space to confide in you about their feelings, worries, excitements, challenges and opportunities. Coach them through some of the big emotions and difficult feelings. Validate their emotions by saying it’s normal to feel the way they do and by giving your child your full attention when they’re talking about how they’re feeling.
- Ask exploratory questions and talk about “what ifs” for their worst-case scenarios. Avoid saying “It will be okay” or “Everything will be fine,” which can come across as dismissive.
- Consider your and your child’s expectations. For adolescents and teens, ask questions and find out their goals for the year. A good conversation starter is to ask them to name something they want to achieve over the next three months, six months and year. (Use art or visuals, such as drawing emojis, for younger children.)
- Understand that stress in kids can be seen through physical symptoms. Children may experience headaches, stomachaches, trouble sleeping or muscle tension from stress because they don’t have a clear understanding of what stress is and how it can manifest in their mind and body.
- Help your children manage stress rather than to remove their worries. Stress is a natural part of life and it’s not always a bad thing. It can sometimes make us energized and sharpen our mind and body to perform well. Watch out for unhealthy stress from your child that involves negative self-talk, such as “I can’t do this” or “I am no good” or “It’s too much work!” For tips on how to change a negative mindset, read Negative-thinking patterns.
- Let them know mistakes are normal. Everyone makes mistakes and that is okay! By teaching your child that mistakes are learning opportunities, it helps them embrace challenges and build resilience.
- Use the resources available to you. Your child’s teachers, principal and school counsellor want to see your child do well. Don’t hesitate to talk to them about additional support and feedback for ongoing difficulties, from homework to school attendance.
- Schedule time for rest and relaxation. It’s all too common to be overscheduled these days. Make sure to plan for breaks and regular meals as a family to maintain a balance and ease stress. Engage in healthy stress strategies as a family, such as going for a walk or listening to music.
- Teach your child to practice mindful breathing. Intentional breathing can deliver more oxygen to the brain, ease stress and worry, and provide clarity. Practice at home and encourage your child to do this at school when needed. Watch Manitoba Blue Cross’s Your Wellness Moment on breathing to manage stress.
Want more support and strategies for back-to-school troubles, parenting concerns or child development? Manitoba Blue Cross’s counselling services are available to all Manitobans, regardless of whether or not you have coverage with Manitoba Blue Cross. Find the available support that's right for you here.
Unsure of your coverage? Confirm your eligibility in your mybluecross® account.