Got Back-to-School Blues? 5 Tips to Beat the Blues
After nine weeks of riding bikes, swimming, and collecting sea glass, I expected a rocky transition. I prepared myself for the tears. I coached myself to smile, even when the confidence that finally emerged during the summer months came to a crashing halt. I readied myself with responses and strategies to reduce the inevitable back-to-school stress. But nothing can really prepare you for that kind of overwhelming stress radiating from your once happy-go-lucky child's soul. No amount of strategies can keep that smile plastered to your face when your seven-year-old falls apart at the end of the day.
I should have seen it coming. I hoped that being placed in a class with a few friends from the previous year would suffice. But this year my daughter was separated from her best friend. That can be difficult for little kids, especially in a really big school. And transitions are hard even when everything goes according to plan. Through her tears and hiccups, wrapped up in my arms, last night she finally uttered the words that I knew to be true all along, “I don't feel the same without her with me.” And there is nothing I can do but love and support her every step of the way until she finds comfort without her best friend by her side.
So here I stand, left to pick up the pieces night after night and build her up as much as I can so that she can find a way to thrive in her new classroom, with her new teacher, and many, many new faces (and not the one old face that counts most.)
Back-to-school blues affects many kids each year and there can be any number of triggers and sources of stress. Sure, it's hard to come back from lazy days and endless nights, but it's not just that.
Transitions are difficult for many children. Social worries (will my friends still be my friends?) can be overwhelming for young children. The fear of failure and worries about homework can trigger anxious thoughts and sleepless nights for others. And separation anxiety isn't just for toddlers. Many elementary age children suffer from separation anxiety and experience significant worries about the health and safety of their parents when they are separated.
There are a few things parents can do to ease the transition and help kids work through back-to-school blues.
It's no big secret that sleep is essential for small children, and yet many kids fail to get sufficient sleep each night.
Insufficient sleep can lead to illness, decreased immune system functioning, inattention, difficulty learning, impaired memory, and symptoms of anxiety and/or depression (to name a few.) Getting your kids to bed on time is just as important as getting your kids to school on time. In fact, if you get your kids to bed on time, you'll have a better chance of beating that school bell each morning.
Researchers from Brown University found that staying up late can negatively impact attention and learning for otherwise healthy children. Aim for 10-11 hours of sleep each night and avoid drastic changes to the sleep schedule on weekends and holiday breaks.
Find the stressors:
Some kids wear their feelings on their sleeves, but others make you work for it. Remain calm and ask a lot of questions to help determine the stressors that keep your child up at night. It can help to make a simple checklist that includes several common stressors (ex: work is too hard, bullies, friendship worries, where to sit at lunch) and have your child do a daily check-in during a quiet moment. Knowing where the stress originates gives you the opportunity to find ways to help your child work through it.
Three times in three days I heard parents complain about kids being suddenly shy or wishing their kids would just “get over it” and walk into the classroom. Kids need time to process and cope with big transitions. They also need oodles of empathy to work through these big changes.
Listen without interruption when your kids express their emotions and be sure to validate their feelings. If you want them to talk, you have to be willing and able to listen. Try to think about how you felt in similar situations when you were a child. Share a story from your childhood to help normalize your child's emotions.
Kids with at least one good friend by their sides are better able to overcome obstacles and find success in the classroom. One solid friendship can decrease feelings of isolation, help ease that separation anxiety, and help kids feel understood.
Take the time to help nurture a friendship outside of school so that your child feels less alone in the world.
My daughter loves to run toy stores, restaurants, and libraries in our living room. She is the most at peace when lost in play and art. We factor in plenty of downtime to make that free play happen.
The return of school often signals the return of a packed schedule. Take the opportunity that a new school year brings to prioritize slowing down. Your child has a lifetime to learn to play a sport or master an instrument, but today your child needs to play.
Do you struggle with the back-to-school blues in your home? How do you handle it?