Back to school stress busting ideas
Here in the UK it seems that whilst Covid-19 is far from ‘over’, school life might finally be ready to go back to ‘normal’ for September 2021.
With restrictions on bubbles, self-isolation and social distancing now lifted, our children should hopefully be able to enjoy interacting with their friends, knowing that school will be open every day and getting back into the best bits of school life like trips, special assemblies and whole school events.
Just like adults adjusting to the newest set of rules, some children will be thrilled by this prospect, while others may find it a bit uncomfortable.
Children often find it difficult to articulate their feelings, or don’t even know what they are feeling themselves so it’s up to us as adults to spot the clues.
How will I know if my child is experiencing stress?
Stress in children can manifest in many ways, including:
- Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
- Being irritable, tearful or clingy
- Getting stomach aches or headaches
- A change in appetite, decrease or increase
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Lacking confidence to try new things
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What can I do to support my child?
Whether your child is showing any signs of stress or not, there is plenty you can do to help make the start of the school year easier for them.
Bring back routine
It’s completely normal for routines to slip during the holidays. It’s nice to laze around in pyjamas for half the morning, eat when you’re hungry and do different things each day, but a predictable routine can go a long way in making children feel secure.
Before the start of term, reintroduce regular bedtimes and getting up times and move mealtimes back to what they will be during term.
If your child is starting or moving schools this year, then discuss in advance what the new morning and afternoon routines will be around getting ready and travelling to and from school.
Talk and (more importantly) listen
A problem shared is a problem halved, but the tricky thing is that children find it even harder than adults to explain what is bothering them and why.
To open up conversations about the start of a new school year you could:
- Read books about times of change
- Talk about when you were at school and the things you felt nervous about
- For younger children, role play scenarios with toys and get your child to join in
There are some great tips here about how to talk to children, and how to be a good listener.
Any sentence containing the words ‘children’ and ‘sleep’ can be a sore point for parents. Each family is different and sleep routines definitely change as children get older, but if you can, the following ideas can help children get a better night’s sleep:
- create a quiet, dark and cool environment for your child to sleep
- limit screen time in the hour before bed
- stick to a regular bedtime
Being well rested helps to reduce stress and can help us to face daily challenges more easily, not to mention allowing the brain to be ready for all that new learning.
When we’re stressed, it’s common to have changes in appetite. Having nutritious meals and snacks ready for when hunger strikes will mean that whether your child is eating a lot or not very much, the food they do consume will be doing their body good.
If your child seems to have lost their appetite, don’t pressure them to eat as that may make matters worse. Remember that not all snacking is bad, and small, regular meals are good for maintaining energy levels, while decreasing tiredness and irritability.
If you have the opposite problem and your child keeps saying they are hungry despite having just eaten, then distraction is your friend! Boredom can be another cause of overeating so find something else to do that will keep them busy and their mind off asking for another snack.
Moving the body helps to release excess energy. Exercise reduces stress hormones and stimulates production of endorphins, which together help you relax.
Exercise, especially for children, looks an awful lot like play. All of the following count:
- Visiting the playground
- Bike riding or scooting
- Kicking a ball around the park
- Dancing to some favourite music
- Climbing trees and balancing along logs
It doesn’t always have to be a full-body workout! The aim is to simply get moving, preferably out in the fresh air and nature.
Look after yourself too
Remember, that as a parent, carer or teacher you have been through the whole gamut of emotions along with your children. All of the strategies above apply to adults as well as children, so if the summer holidays have taken it out of you and you’re feeling stressed bear in mind that you are not alone feeling that way. Start small: pick one of the strategies above to start with and see what difference it makes.
Note: If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, it is important that you seek help from a medical professional.