5 Ways to Tackle Back–to-School Stress

A female middle school student walks hesitantly to the school bus on the first day of school.

August 08, 2019

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Janti Chaaban, M.D.
Lakshmi Nandiwada, M.D.
As August and September roll in, the seasons change, the summer comes to an end and before you know it it’s time to get the kids back to school. There’s no doubt that this time can often be overwhelming for many children.

Janti Chaaban, M.D., pediatric neurologist at K. Hovnanian Children's Hospital and Lakshmi Nandiwada, M.D., a pediatrician at Hackensack Meridian Health Medical Group in Manalapan, offer insight on the best ways to manage and avoid back to school stress, as well as tips to help parents as stress pops up throughout the school year.

Don’t Mess Around with Sleep

Before school officially starts, it is important to make sure children get used to sleeping on a schedule again. It’s easy to break habits and change sleeping patterns during the summer. Children should be getting 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night, which is why it’s so important for children to reset their time clocks as school resumes for the year.

Dr. Chaaban notes that about 1 hour (but ideally 2 hours) before they go to sleep, children should put away their electronic devices. The blue light that is emitted from these devices can delay the release of melatonin, which helps you fall asleep. Putting devices down before bed will help ensure a full night’s sleep.

Find a Stress Relief Outlet

When starting the school year, after-school activities are a great way to ease stress. These activities give children something to be excited about at the end of their day, and there are all sorts of activities to get involved with.

“Exercise after school is important and I always encourage team sports,” says Dr. Chaaban. “Often, coaches end up acting as a counselor to the children on their teams. Every team has good days and bad days, and the team must collaborate to achieve their goals.” Sports allow children to be more assertive and lets them get their energy out in a healthy, positive manner.

Other positive outlets can include reading, art, walking, biking, volunteering and even helping out around the house. Dr. Nandiwada suggests meditation and recommends that children (and parents) meditate for 15 minutes twice a day, which can really help people of all ages relax and reset. “In my opinion, all schools should start their first class of the day with 5 to 10 minutes of meditation,” she says.

Eat for Your Mind

A healthy diet is an important part of a healthy mindset.

“Nutrition is one of the main ways to stay both physically and mentally healthy, and poor nutrition can not only lead to poor physical health, but also contribute to anxiety and increased stress in children,” says Dr. Nandiwada. On average, we consume 200 – 300 grams of added sugar every day, which can lead to behavioral issues, such as being too hyper. There are often many chemicals and pesticides in our food, which can impact the nutritional value.

Food is medicine and packing a healthy lunch is a great way to ensure a healthy mindset at school. Parents can do this by incorporating more protein and vegetables into their child’s lunchbox. Protein is particularly good in the morning, and Greek yogurt is a great way to add protein since it has more protein than regular yogurt. Dr. Chaaban recommends that parents give smoothies a try since you can add all kinds of healthy vegetables, while still tasting delicious .

“It’s always good to focus on nutrition, removing sugar and chemicals, and considering more organic options is a good way to do this,” says Dr. Nandiwada. She also recommends multivitamins as way to ensure children are getting all the nutrition they need.

Take School for a “Test-Drive”

Practicing your morning routine the week before school starts can be a good way to ease anxiety children may be feeling. You can let them pick out the clothes they plan to wear, get their backpack and school supplies ready and make a checklist of everything that needs to be done before they head to the bus stop.

A new school year can come with changes, like going to a new school. The unfamiliarity of new teachers, new hallways and a new playground can lead to some anxiety and stress. “It may be helpful to visit the school if they have the opportunity. If this is not available, they could go to the new school playground so they become more familiar with the space,” explains Dr. Chaaban.

Get to the Root of the Problem

Sometimes, there is an underlying reason that is leading to a child’s stress. Dr. Nandiwada emphasizes the importance of keeping open communication between parents and children. “Parents have to give their child support. If they feel the need to talk about something, give them the attention and reassurance they are seeking. This can help you find out more about what is causing their stress.” A few examples could include learning disabilities, bullies and poor grades, among other things. It is important to find the root cause of the problem, and to work on solving it.

Getting to the root of the problem can be a little difficult, it helps to ask them a few open-ended questions or give them a few examples, and see if their eyes light up. If you suspect your child may be struggling, you can make an appointment with your pediatrician, and together you can work to get to the root of the problem. It is also important for children to have their annual physicals to ensure physical and mental health is on track with other students.

Overall, one of the most important pieces of advice to remember on the first day of school is to stay confident. “Let your child know, when going back to school always remember to be yourself. Be confident in who you are and believe in yourself,” says Dr. Nandiwada.

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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