What Your Patients are Hearing

Back-to-school stress affects children – and parents


Even as summer continues on, the long, hot, sunny days and backyard barbecues can be tinged with the realization that the new school year looms ahead. For those in traditional school systems, September is the return to the classroom. This has long been a source of angst for many children who may face a new school or a return to the challenging, even overwhelming, business of learning.

“The end of summer and the beginning of a new school year can be a stressful time for parents and children,” says psychologist Lynn Bufka, PhD, assistant execute director for practice, research, and policy for the American Psychological Association. “While trying to manage work and the household, parents can sometimes overlook their children’s feelings of nervousness or anxiety as school begins. Working with your children to build resilience and manage their emotions can be beneficial for the psychological health of the whole family.”

According to the association, parents can help ease their child’s worries by offering support and encouragement and by listening to their child’s concerns, which can help foster their resilience. A dry run about a week before the big day can help reset the summer sleep schedule. Getting school supplies together and ready for action is another bit of preparation that helps get the mind ready for the reality of school. Visiting a new school, if permitted, can remove some sense of the unknown and lay the path for that first day through the front door. Empathy can be a powerful aid; understanding that a child might be apprehensive can prevent the potentially misguided advice to just tough it out.

But children aren’t the only ones with back-to-school anxiety. Increasingly, this time of year is generating stress for parents. When budgets are stretched tight, the additional school expenses can be a strain. The horrors of school shooting incidents can be on parents’ minds, especially when their child is enrolled in a new and unfamiliar school. An era of heightened competitiveness for postsecondary education and scholarship money comes with the baggage of worry that a son or daughter is lagging and already might be behind the eight ball in the game of life.

Parental stress can be tough to deal with. Budget planning, participating in safe-school activities, fostering relationships with teachers and staff, having a heightened awareness of signs of school-related stress in their children, and maintaining faith in their children’s ability to learn and succeed can go a long way toward easing the parental burden.

Click here to read the APA’s back-to-school tips.

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