Ways to support your child manage back-to-school stress
By now schools are in the full throes of the new academic year. New teachers have been introduced, new lessons have begun, new extra-curricular activities have started, new friends have been made, new homework has been set; the list could go on. That’s a lot of new for children to take on and, having been away from school for six weeks, even the old, such as the school routine can be tricky to settle back into.
School is full of potential stressors for children and school leaders have reported increased signs in students of stress and anxiety. Reassurance is having to be given to year 6 pupils that their Sats results won’t determine their future, whilst secondary school teachers report students experiencing panic attacks and crying during lessons. NHS figures show that almost 4000 children and young people in England are being treated for mental health problems; the highest number ever. As children progress through their education, they are confronted with different pressures, pressures that continue into adult life. As stress mounts and takes hold, it can be hard as parents to know how best to support your child. We’ve provided some tips below to help you help them.
What are the signs of stress?
Children may not explicitly say that they are experiencing stress. Maybe they’re afraid or perhaps they don’t understand what it is they are feeling. Yet stress can result in an array of physical and behavioural signs that can act as flags.
- Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
- Irritable, tearful or clingy
- Reports of stomach aches or headaches
- Change in appetite, decrease or increase
- Difficulty concentrating
- Withdrawing from everyday activities, such as seeing family and friends, going out in public or attending school
- Developing a nervous habit
- Getting into trouble at school
- Lack confidence to try new things or seem unable to face simple, everyday challenges
- Negative thoughts circling their mind or continually thinking bad things are going to happen
To learn more, click here.
How can you support your child?
Listen and talk
Simply listening can provide a wealth of support to your child. A poll run by Time to Change found that 55% of families do not openly discuss mental health. Keeping thoughts and feelings locked up can give them greater power, making them scarier as they are unchallenged. By encouraging children to talk about what it is they are experiencing and listening to them, you can help your child take back control of these overwhelming thoughts and feelings. Empathising with your children, showing them that you understand and ensuring they know you’re there to support them, can help minimise their stress.
Have regular check-ins. You can start the conversation if they don’t; approach casually, be patient and listen with care.
Establish a healthy routine
Without a routine, mornings can mean rushing. A panicked morning can mean a panicked day, never fully feeling ready for what’s next. A routine enables time to be taken getting ready, enjoying breakfast and having a chat, setting you and your child up for the day.
Similarly, an evening routine can be calming as consistency can provide a sense of security. What’s more, a bedtime routine encourages good sleeping habits, so children can get the right amount of sleep needed to recharge, which leads us to our next point…
Get enough sleep
Sleep invites a plethora of benefits, from increased creativity, to improved concentration, to having more energy, to helping maintain a healthy weight. Reducing stress is one of these benefits. Tiredness makes us less patient and more easily agitated which can increase stress levels. A difference can also be made to the quality of your child’s sleep by turning off screens an hour before bed and engaging in relaxing activities such as reading.
Enjoy a nourishing breakfast
Along with a good night’s sleep, breakfast is vital for us to re-fuel for the day ahead. A healthy and nutritious breakfast improves alertness and helps fight stress. Take a look at some fun and easy breakfast ideas for your child here.
Make exercise a part of the routine. Healthy body, healthy mind is not just a saying; exercise is proven to help mental wellbeing. Walk to school, encourage participation in sports clubs or visit the park on a weekend. Never underestimate the power of exercise.
With the rising number of mental health problems reported, we are hearing more and more about the importance of self-care and, just like adults, children can benefit greatly from self-care activities. Taking time to enjoy hobbies, exercising, relaxation and even something as simple as getting fresh air and sunlight can invite calm and balance.
Why not introduce mindfulness to your child? Rather than thinking about the past or worrying about the future, mindfulness encourages you to focus on the present. Research shows the positive impact mindfulness can have on children, inviting a sense of calm, improving attention and decision-making and increasing their ability to self-regulate emotions. Apps like Headspace and Buddhify have sections dedicated to mindfulness for children, helping you share mindfulness with your child.
Going back to school can be overwhelming and to feel overwhelmed is scary. We want to encourage children to focus on the positives, whist ensuring they know they can share any fears with us, that they are not alone. Supporting your child and providing them with tools to manage stress at a young age, equips them with an invaluable skill to be used throughout life.
Note: If you are concerned about your child, it’s important you seek help from a medical professional