Commentary: Back-to-school stress reduction primer

Opinion September 22, 2011 0 Comments

Rebecca Tendler

by Rebecca Tendler

A new school year is just beginning, full of possibilities for learning and growth. Many children are excited as they prepare with new school clothes, backpacks, and supplies, while others may look forward to the new school year with dread. They may be worried about succeeding academically, or about having friends, or they may worry about whether they will like the new teacher, or that they’ll have to deal with bullies.

What’s a parent to do? Here are three steps to reducing back-to-school stress: First, it is very important to listen to your children and try to understand the problem from her point of view. Don’t try to solve the problem until you have really listened to and understood what she’s saying.

You may be surprised by what part of the problem actually bothers them.

Second, there are concrete steps you can take to help anxious children calm down. Breathing techniques are a useful tool that works well with children. Breathing should be slow and deep, taking longer to exhale than to inhale.

Imagination techniques are also very helpful. Get your child to imagine a place where she would feel calm and peaceful. Have your child imagine herself in the place, noticing all of the sights, colors, sounds, textures, and temperature of the place. Perhaps she could draw a picture of this place and take that picture to school. Just looking at the picture is likely to help her to feel calm.

Self talk is also useful. Help your children come up with simple statements that promote calm and build confidence, such as “Some people like me a lot. So, I can make friends.” Or “I’m good at some things.” Make sure that your child says things that are true (not exaggerated) so that she will believe what she’s saying.

Third, if there is an actual problem at school, whether with another student or a teacher, work with your children to solve the problem. Get the children involved in the process; that way the solution will make more sense to them, and they will be more likely to use it.

Remember: sometimes an acceptable solution can focus on avoiding a problem rather than trying to fix it. For example, avoiding a bully is often easier than trying to change the bully’s behavior, although the latter may be a more ideal resolution. Talk to your children about the various options in each situation, and which they think would be the most successful solution for them.

Rebecca Tendler is a psychologist who has been in private practice for more than 20 years. She is trained in child development and in the psychotherapy of children and their families. She has taught Psychology at Chestnut Hill College, Widener University, and Holy Family College.
On Saturday, October 15th, 10am-noon Dr. Tendler is hosting a free parenting seminar on managing children’s fears. Location: 8627 Germantown Ave., Chestnut Hill.

For more information and to reserve a space, call  215-836-2080.

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