The September blues are invading many households, now that school is on.
Returning to school can bring on a mixed bag of feelings for students of any age. From excitement to dread, the emotional range runs the gammut. Add to it the onset of a daily routine and responsibilities and suddenly you have a challenging period of transition for students, parents and families.
“For kids who are feeling some negative feelings about back to school, it could be about everything from worrying about whether the work might be too hard, or that a social problem that they experienced in the past might reappear,” explains Jennifer Kolari, M.S.W., R.S.W. and founder of Connected Parenting and Child and Parent Therapist.
“Even for kids who experience positive feelings about back to school, there can sometimes be a lot of extra energy pent-up inside that can lead to them being a little bit more prickly than usual.”
Kolari, herself a mother of three, has been in the business of counselling children, teens and parents for two decades. In her experience, she says there are many signs that parents can watch out for to determine if their child is stressed by the prospect of returning to school.
Outward signs of feeling stress:
- Acting clingy
- Sleep problems
- Complaining of tummy aches
- Changes in appetite
Less obvious signs of feeling stress:
- Increasing rigidity, acting less flexible
- Want to control certain situations
- Afraid to try something new or different
“Some kids might not feel any anxiety until after a couple of weeks of being back to school. I call this the September crash,” Kolari says. “It usually happens after being back at school for a couple of weeks, and finding the work to be difficult, or the newness of the school year wearing off.”
Older kids who are entering high school and university can also feel the stress.
“The build-up for high school is usually huge. Kids hear all through middle school things like ‘you won’t be able to get away with that in high school’ or ‘when you get to high school, the work will be much more difficult.’ High school usually means a lot of new teachers, friends, a new school – this can be overwhelming even for the most social kids,” Kolari explains.
From high school, the transition to university can be even more overwhelming, with kids who previously had a curfew and parents who ensured they always went to class now left to their own devices and faced with temptations such as fast food, credit cards, and drinking.
“Teens in university and college really need to have a huge sense of internal motivation to be able to manage this transition successfully,” says Kolari. “It’s also important to remember that it’s sometimes the most popular kids can feel…isolated when they are at university. These kids [may have been] the class president or best athlete, and then they get to a university of 40,000 kids and realize that there are lots of kids out there who are smarter or better athletes.”
So how can parents help their kids get through the stress of getting back to school?
For younger children:
Start to introduce earlier bedtimes – Get them to bed earlier, and wake them up earlier.
Start to introduce more organization into their day – For example, plan a morning swim, followed by lunch, then an afternoon craft. Let them know about the schedule in advance and stick to it. This helps to give a bit more texture to their day, and will make the scheduled school day seem less overwhelming.
But maybe there’s even more to it, as this recent article suggests.
For children of all ages:
Take the opportunity to bond with your kids – Spend some time talking, hugging, and laughing with them. It might seem counter-intuitive to get closer with them now, but will send them back to school feeling great about themselves.
Don’t become a cheerleader – If they are feeling anxious about back to school, it’s important to validate these feelings.
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