5 tips to get back to school with less stress

Back-to-school is an exciting time to start a new grade, reconnect with old friends and make new ones, and begin new classes, but it can also lead to anxiety for some children, as fears can creep in and stress can take the fun out of this exciting time.

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Mary Kathryn Sanders, M.S.N., RN, assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing, explains that back-to-school stress can affect both mental and physical health.

While fears during childhood are fairly common – like a fear of the dark, or not fitting in and being bullied – stress and anxiety can take a real emotional toll on children if not managed properly.

Mary Kathryn Sanders, M.S.N., RN, assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing, explains that stress can affect both mental and physical health, and that the two are intertwined.

“This can be a very demanding time and parents can really help their children by supporting both physical and emotional well-being.” Sanders said. “Good physical health can help alleviate the symptoms of emotional stress.”

Parents can help ease the transition back to school with some simple strategies:

  1. Establish a consistent bedtime routine, and transition from “summer sleep patterns” to “school sleep patterns” before the school year begins. Adequate sleep will help your child to focus and be less irritable during the transition.
  2. Plan healthy, easy to fix lunches for school to reduce stress on parents and last-minute unhealthy meal choices.
  3. Develop a routine at home that includes breakfast every day and a consistent time for homework or after school activities.
  4. Review hygiene tips with your child to avoid illness – washing hands, not sharing food or drink, keeping objects out of his or her mouth and covering sneezes. Illnesses can increase stress for both children and parents.
  5. Schedule an appointment with your provider for a physical and review of immunizations.

If you have a child with special medical needs, make an appointment to talk with the school nurse before the start of the school year and have a plan in place to care for your child.

“If your district does not have a school nurse, inquire as to who will be responsible for your child’s health during school time and their qualifications,” Sanders says. “Be sure to introduce yourself and make sure they have your most up-to-date contact information.”

Sanders suggests keeping an open line of communication with your child, and watch for warning signs that your child may be experiencing excessive stress. The following warning signs may signal that back-to-school jitters have developed into something more:

  • Frequent stomach pains or headache
  • Changes in sleep patterns or nightmares
  • Bedwetting (in a child who has previously not had accidents)
  • Change in eating habits
  • Aggressive or stubborn behavior
  • Withdrawal or reluctance to participate in activities
  • Regression to earlier behaviors
  • Trouble concentrating or performing in school

If you recognize any of these signs in your child, make an appointment to talk with the school counselor or school nurse. Serious concerns about your child’s health, physical or psychological, should be discussed with your pediatrician or other health care provider. Additionally, there may also be physical causes for these symptoms, which need to be evaluated by a qualified health care professional.

For more information, the National Association of School Nurses has created this back-to-school family check list: https://www.nasn.org/portals/0/resources/BacktoSchoolChecklistFamily_2014.pdf

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