Clinical Therapist * Mental Health Specialist * Media Expert

Mind Matters: Back to school prep

As kids move into back-to-school mode, they can have a whole host of different reactions. While some kids may look forward to it, others dread it. Thoughts of homework, uncertainty about who their teacher might be and stricter bedtimes add stress that can show up in all kinds of ways. Regardless of where their emotional reactions fall, strategies for kids to stay calm under these new pressures can go a long way toward limiting back to school stress.

There are five key ways to limit back to school stress and make this the best school year yet:

Children carry an internal story about school and that narrative becomes hardwired into their brain system, helping or hindering their ability to cope. So teach them to boss back the negative voice that says school is a big drag and instead ask what their optimistic mind might say. Whether they’ve had a tough teacher in the past, a hard time with a friend or simply feel apprehensive about the transition, help them externalize fears by talking, writing or drawing about it. By creating a new story that focuses on their goals and strengths, they’ll in turn change their thinking.

Now that you’re mentally prepared, get physically prepared and that means focusing on sleep. Keep in mind that kids need more sleep than most people realize; aim for 12 to 13 hours of sleep for kindergartners, 10 to 11 for school age and nine to 10 for teens. If you find your child isn’t hitting the mark in terms of sleep time, they are likely to show more academic and behaviour problems compared to their well-rested peers. As a quick checklist on best sleep practices, keep an eye on whether you’re winding down early enough in the day, powering down at least an hour before bed, and keeping an eye on overall stress levels.

Getting mentally organized with a visual schedule serves in two ways; it helps everyone stay on track and reassures your child that they really will have time for everything they love. So often children are led from activity to activity, feeling utterly powerless to what may be coming next. While surprise changes in routine are to be expected, a visual schedule can be reassuring to kids, providing them with a sense of predictability, one of the mental nutrients needed for a child to function at their best.

So often kids tie school performance to their entire sense of well-being. Keep in mind that children who have a balanced life are less stressed and fare better at school. This year, set an intention to create a lifestyle that balances mind and body. Play, physical activity, downtime, connection and creativity are all important for consolidating learning and bolstering the brains relational circuitry.

Homework can rip into home life, making your family sanctuary a place of tears and power struggles. But getting the job done will be far less stressful if you keep the following in mind: Kids are more independent and successful with homework when they have a homework contract. Make an agreement that includes when and where your child will complete their work along with the rewards they can enjoy after taking on the challenge. But keep in mind parents have a big role in how kids feel about homework time, so reward effort rather than outcome, be available to support if needed, avoid hovering and leave the grading for the teacher.

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