How to Help Your Kids Beat Back to School Stress
Going back to school is both a relief and an added stress for parents. I know, because I am a mom myself. I enjoy a more regular routine during the school year, but stress levels definitely rise as the kids have more responsibilities, more activities, and seemingly less time.
Depression and anxiety in school-aged children is a serious problem. The peak age of onset of any and all mental health disorders is age 14. Changes in brain structure and function coupled with the complex social, family, and educational challenges create an environment that is quite difficult for a child to navigate successfully.
There is tremendous pressure on our kids to perform well in school, behave appropriately, and even to be athletic superstars. We talk about our seven-year-old kids getting college scholarships to play sports and label our fidgety kids as “problem” when they can’t sit still for over an hour.
If we, as parents, don’t put that burden on our kids, they are likely getting it from their peers, social media, and popular culture in general.
Adults tend to play down the feelings of our kids. When they are upset, we tell them they are just tired. When they are cranky we might blame the massive amount of sugar they just ate. While these may be valid excuses, it is essential that we recognize and validate that our kids have real feelings. That stress, overwhelm, anxiety, and depression are every bit as real for them as it is for us.
I have watched my own teen-aged daughter navigate these complex emotions. She has become passionate about getting more mental health support for kids, because she knows that teen suicide happens, self-harm is rampant, and depression and anxiety are big problems among her peers.
In my 15 years of practicing medicine, the most common condition I treat is stress and all of its related conditions. We, not just our kids, are chronically overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, insomniac, and just generally not mentally well.
How can we expect our children to be any different?
We have to change our own behavior. We have to lower the expectations we have on ourselves and on others. And we have to put ourselves first. You have to be your own number one. Above your kids, your job, your partner. Above your laundry, the dishes, and the dirty toilets.
We all need to be more selfish, because when you put yourself ahead of everything else, you have the ability to handle everything in your life much better.
All of those self-care things you know you should do that you don’t are important for a reason. If you actually eat healthy, get enough sleep, move your body every day, drink enough water, and meditate, you will actually feel better. You will function at a higher level, think more clearly, get things done faster, be happier, and have better relationships – even with your kids.
As a parent, I feel it is my responsibility to model stress management and self-care. I know my kids watch me mindfully choose my healthy food, exercise daily, go to bed at a decent hour, take my supplements, and try to be a kind friend. When I myself do what I know is best for me, I can, in all good conscious, nag them to do the same!
I want, above all else, for my children to enter the school year armed with self-care. I want them to know that taking time to exercise, meditate, sleep, rest, play, and even to be social, is essential to their own well-being. And I want them to know that if they say no to another commitment, that if they don’t make the team, if they drop a sport or don’t get an A, they can still go to college. I want them to know that I love them not because of what they do but because of who they are.
Take the pressure off of yourself and help to alleviate some of the pressure on your kids. They have a lot of it- maybe more than you realize. You can help your kids have a better school year, and a better life, by modeling good stress management skills and self-care.