CBC RADIO INTERVIEW: Back to School Stress

by Samantha on September 10, 2013

back to school stress

The lazy,  hazy days of summer have passed and the kids have returned to school.

It may be “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” for parents but for kids, this is not necessarily the case.

More often than not, back to school signals the beginning of a very stressful time.

Regardless of age or grade, returning to school can be anxiety-causing, to say the least. Between homework, bullies and the fear of not succeeding in class, is it any wonder that our kids are stressed-out? And don’t fool yourselves: this anxiety is not only the domain of the young. Older kids - teens and university or college-bound students - have their fair share of worry about what the coming semester will bring as well. For those going off to university and living in residence for the first time, “back to school” is a whole other ball of wax, and a stressful one at that.

I returned to CBC’s studios to discuss this subject and provide some simple advice and tips for parents and kids who are dealing with back to school stress. Following is the audio of the full interview as well as some of the questions and answers that were discussed (click to listen).

Back to School Stress - How to Help Kids Deal With Anxiety

1) What are some of the key causes of back-to-school stress for kids?

There are many but some of the ones that seem to cause the most stress are the spectre of homework and studying, bullies/bullying, separation anxiety for younger kids and for middle school and high school kids, peer pressure and popularity.

2) Things move fast in this day and age—do you think today’s kids are more stressed than in previous years?

I think that kids today have a lot more on their plates. We live in an information age and as a result, they have information coming to them from a multitude of different sources. In some ways this can add fuel to the fire as they have more input on how things may or may not work out well, regardless of whether or not it’s true. Add to this the very real problem of cyberbullying by school peers and it’s no wonder that some kids are stressed.

3) How does back to school anxiety and stress manifest itself for kids of different ages and grades?

There are many factors that add to kids stress, and they’re different for each age and grade. For elementary school kids, some of their primary fears are separation anxiety (kindergarten and first-graders), homework, studying, fear of the unknown, and having to deal with the structure of a full day of school. Gone are the lazy dog days of summer and that’s a hard lesson to experience for some kids. For middle and high school students, cyberbullying is unfortunately a very real problem, as the Internet, digital communication and social media makes it very easy to bully and tease certain classmates. Older kids also worry about their grades, making the track or soccer team or other extra-curricular activities that are important to them. One other issue is sleep - older kids often have difficulty getting back into a scheduled routine where they have to get up early and head out the door for school. Ironically, worrying about sleep often results in not being able to sleep.

4. You’re a mother yourself…how challenging is it to get your kids to TALK to you about their school-related anxieties?

It’s challenging, alright. My twin boys are 4 and just started Kindergarten, so my husband and I had a good talk with them about what to expect. We toured the classroom before they started last week, so they were pretty prepared. As well, they’ve been in daycare so they’re not completely immune to the whole “structured” environment of school. My nine-year-old daughter was feeling somewhat anxious, more about being prepared for the first day, not knowing who her teacher was or classmates were, that type of thing. Again, I found that being open and creating an environment where she could voice her stresses was really helpful. We talked through all of the various things that were on her mind well before school started so by the time the first day back rolled around, she was excited, not scared.

5) What can parents do to alleviate some of the anxiety and stresses associated with going back to school?

There are a number of things that parents can do. Firstly, parents of stressed kids should talk to their children and make themselves available to hear their children’s concerns and fears. Sometimes just knowing that your parent is taking the time to listen can be a huge help to kids. As well, parents can take some concrete steps to alleviate fear of the unknown - for younger kids, taking the kids to school and speaking to the teacher about what’s on the curriculum agenda for the school year can help. Parents can then discuss homework or class work plans and expectations and listen to their kids concerns, perhaps offering solutions in the process. Preparing your kids for their days in school, whether that means helping them stock their knapsack, planning their wardrobe or helping them with homework - all of these actions show the child that their parents care and that they’re there for their kids during this stressful time. Finally, teaching a child to trust their own abilities and to be confident in who they are - this is key to kids ultimately being able to handle any situation that’s put in front of them. Learning how to mitigate feelings of stress and anxiety through active mindfulness - whether it’s meditation in the classical sense, or just supporting the child having some quiet “down time” will do wonders for the child’s overall sense of well-being, regardless of their age. Recent studies in the U.K. have shown that teaching kids mindfulness techniques to be used in the classroom have been successful in addressing kids’ anxiety and stress.

6) How about teachers? What are their responsibilities in alleviating their students’ stress?

Most teachers want to have a classroom full of anxiety-free kids, so I know that they do their part to make it as comfortable as possible. Similar to what parents are doing, teachers can create an open and welcoming environment in the classroom that encourages kids to discuss their feelings and concerns. As well, teachers can facilitate a classroom where two-way communication and interactivity amongst students and with the teacher is the standard. Doing so will go a long way in making the kids feel comfortable and less anxious.

7. We haven’t talked about the stress that college and university students can face…especially first year students. They’re often some distance from home. Any thoughts on how parents can help in these situations?

Again - fear is of the unknown is often the reason behind feelings of anxiety and stress. Not unlike the strategies used with younger kids, older students can benefit from having discussions with their parents as well. If first-year students are in residence and living away from home for the first time, make yourself available to them - perhaps more available than you usually would. They may already be in their new dorm room and feeling stress, so keep those lines of communication open. Skype, Google Hangouts, Face Time - these are all technological tools that allow parents and kids to remain connected over distance. As well, help your child research their support options at their actual school. These may include guidance counsellors, peer or student groups or similar community resources. A lot of colleges and universities set up student support groups and assign student leaders to shepherd the new students through the first few weeks. Help your child find these resources and always let them know that you’re there for them, in spite of the distance.
What strategies do you recommend for alleviating back to school stress with your kids? What works best? Provide your suggestions in the comments section below.

 Image courtesy of www.cbc.ca

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