Weathering Back to School Stress

blog-glowaski-stress-schoolAs summer is coming to an end, a collective sigh is being heard in this country.  Saying good-bye to the stress free days of summer and hello to the daunting world of academics can easily overwhelm parents and children alike.  All the social, emotional, and academic issues involved with school have definitely raised the stakes.  So how can we as parents help our child weather the storm and not allow the storm to overcome us with stress and anxiety?

As a psychotherapist in Sarasota, Florida I have worked with many families that try to deal with the emotional struggles of school.  Stress, anxiety, worry, which can even spiral into depression due to overwhelming pressure from school and the expectations a child puts on themselves.  Often, our children are struggling emotionally and easily become overwhelmed and we as parents at times feel helpless in being able to guide them.


“CATASTROPHE….MY LIFE IS COMING TO AN END!”  I am sure that most parents of teenage children have heard this at least once.  Class schedules are handed out and your child realizes they are not having a lunch period with any of their friends, or that their boyfriend won’t be in any of their classes, or they didn’t get their favorite teacher.  This can easily result in a meltdown of nuclear proportion.  Your child may sulk around in a depressed state for the next several weeks.

What next?  Your emotional reaction will help your child moderate their reaction.  Many times parents feel the need to rescue their child from whatever drama has entered their life, and easily jump on the emotional bandwagon.  Instead, share reasons why this could possibly be a good thing, i.e., meeting new kids that you would not have normally have met, becoming familiar with the teaching styles of other teachers in preparation for college, or life is full of transitions and this would be a good way in learning to become comfortable with transition.  Helping your child to develop flexibility towards life changes and outlining the positives that would come from it, instead of focusing on the negative, will be key in navigating these emotional waters.  Your reassurance and ability in being able to see the positive will help your child to develop that skill within themselves.

HOW MANY IRONS CAN YOU REALLY HAVE IN THE FIRE?  School by today’s standard is the quintessential pressure cooker.  Academic performance is key and kids are regularly being assessed through placement testing, achievement testing, and a variety of other scales and measures.  Let’s face it our kids are being sized up all year-long while in school with the understanding that we are trying to improve what and how they learn compared to other countries, or even amongst themselves.  If that isn’t enough to shrink a child’s confidence level then add in the pressure of college preparation.   ACT, SAT, extracurricular activities, community service, scholarship applications, Honors, AP, DE, IB, long hours of studying, weighted GPA, and more.  As an adult it leaves my head spinning….was education really this complicated back in the day?

How do you find balance?  Kids, like adults, can sometimes be their own harshest critic, pushing themselves to relentless levels, compounding stress, anxiety, and worry.  Helping your child to find balance in life by emphasizing what is important in the “now” versus what may happen in the future.  Everyone wants to see their child be the well-rounded child and it’s good to have goals, but unless they are qualifying for the Olympics, is umpteen hours of soccer practice a week really that important?  Perhaps it would be better to finish studying for your exam and getting a good night’s sleep.  In the moment, what seems like a necessity may not be relevant in 5-10 years from now.  Having your child look at what activities they are involved in today and decide whether they are essential in meeting future goals and achievements is one way of teaching your child how to find balance.  Developing the understanding that it is best that they put their energy into those things that serve their highest and best interest will help guide them in making those choices.

BEING AN EMOTIONAL CONTAINER FOR OUR KIDS.  Allowing our kids to share their worries, fears, and hopes in an open and non-judgmental way allows our children to emotionally vent.  We as parents are giving them a safe container in which to place all of their emotions.  Kids even at this young age are processing so much emotionally and helping them to reality check or just be a sounding board for them not only allows them to process their feelings, but also can help them with the following:

  • How to find creative solutions to their problems
  • Know and understand that the emotional state they are feeling is not long-term but rather a moment in time that will re-balance itself
  • It is okay to have feelings.  Feelings are merely an emotional state and there is nothing to be ashamed of.
  • Feeling more secure in who they are when their feelings are validated by you
  • Empowering themselves and developing confidence in their decision making
  • Learn how to appropriately handle feelings and emotions which will be of great benefit to them in future relationships

It doesn’t always have to be perfect, just remember in being there for your child and validating their feelings you will be helping them grow into confident and emotionally secure adults.

So for those of you parents who are not necessarily doing the “Happy Dance” about back to school, know that this is a time where kids can grow emotionally and begin to develop good decision-making skills while still at home with adult guidance. Weathering the organized chaos of school may take a little practice but over time and with a little bit of application you and your child will both earn an “A.”