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September 4, 2018

Rethink Back To School: Stress Busters for Students

Time flies when we have fun and we’re already at the end of summer! At this time, many students may feel a sense of dread or anxiety, knowing that they are returning to school. Parents may also feel the same way following a relaxed summer period. With increased structure, academic demands and peer influence, sometimes the transition back to school can get stressful. With a little preparation and understanding what to expect, parents can help their children cope with back-to-school transition easily.

Here are 5 tips to get you started:

When your child’s environment is disorganized or lacks structure, stress and anxiety tend to increase because nothing is predictable and no one knows what to expect. Create a routine that includes the basic building blocks of physical health – regular sleep, meals and exercise. Next, build in P.O.D (Play, Others, Downtime) into their schedules instead of just packing it with academic activities. Having a purposeful schedule at home can act as a guide and give some sense of order to reduce anxiety. When your child is healthy and relaxed, she will be more likely to cooperate and enjoy school.

According to Dr. Shimi Kang, children do not usually tell parents that they are stressed. However, they may act up by displaying physical and mental signs, consciously or unconsciously. These signs can include complaints of headaches, tummy aches, tiredness, distractibility, irritability, crying spells and general unwellness. When this happens, parents ought to investigate to see if the complaint is a manifestation of stress. She added that it is important to recognise the child’s feelings and behaviour and help the child to discuss what’s happening and why, and this brings us to our next point.

Before jumping into advice-giving, pause to listen to your child’s concerns.
Ask yourself, “What is she worried about?” Why does she expect that to happen?” Hold yourself back from judging and let your child share about what’s on her mind. When you can understand your child’s troubles, develop a coping plan with them. When children are stressed, they doubt their ability to cope. Address what’s bothering them by brainstorming together with them to create a actionable plan with concrete solutions. Think about worst case scenarios together and coach your child on how to cope and analyse both real and imagined stressful situation.

Teach and encourage your child to master the power of positive self-talk. Studies have shown that positive coping statements can help us cope through stressful moments. When your child is able to use positive words to lift themselves up, they become their own personal motivational coach. Make this a fun activity by creating “Coping Cards” with your child. Ask them to write down a positive coping statement for every difficult situation they can imagine. They can carry it in their pocket or bag to help remind themselves.

Below are some examples of coping statements:

1. Stop, and breathe, I can do this
2. This will pass
3. I can be anxious/angry/sad and still deal with this
4. I have done this before, and I can do it again
5. I’m stronger than I think
6. I will learn from this experience, even if it seems hard to understand right now
7. This is difficult and uncomfortable, but it is only temporary
8. I choose to see this challenge as an opportunity
9. I can learn from this and it will be easier next time
10. Keep calm and carry on

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. This is usually one of the most commonly overlooked ways to manage stress. Speak with your child’s teachers, principal and other relevant school staff about your concerns and ask if they are able to assist in any way possible. Before doing so, it is important to ask your child for her opinion because some children may be self-conscious and so it is necessary to talk to your child about your intentions first. If you think that you have applied every technique possible and still find yourself at wits’ end, working with the school counsellor to discuss more alternatives may be useful. Besides, counsellors can also help you identify an underlying mental health disorder, that may need professional help in order to get treated.

The start of new classes, subjects, teachers, friends, homework and rules can be overwhelming. It is normal for your child to have some worries. However, it is important for them to attend school. Skipping school will only increase stress and anxiety because your child is only avoiding her worries and have no chance to problem-solve them. Model pro-activeness as a parent and teach your child life-long lessons of resilience and adaptability!