With back-to-school in full swing, comes so many worries about setting kids up for success that it’s hard to know where to start. Our colleagues at the TODAY Show recently asked viewers what their anxieties are for the new school year. TODAY Show contributor and Parent Toolkit expert Michele Borba shared her tips and advice to address these common parental worries. We’ve compiled some of our favorites here for you.
“I’ve noticed more and more stress in children these days, whether it’s from sports or academics and it’s stress that they’re putting on themselves…so what I’m wondering is how can we help them deal with the stress that they’re putting on themselves?” – Jennifer L.
Stress can stimulate some kids and paralyze others. However, today’s kids are actually the most stressed out on record. Whether it’s high-stakes testing, pressure for scholarships and grades, or the heavy loads of homework, the stress can come from lots of different places. The trick is to find out how your child handles stress and then help him learn to cope. Here are some strategies:
1. Teach your child to regulate stress. Every kid needs a coping strategy. It could be deep breathing, shooting some baskets, listening to soothing music, or even just taking a walk. Find what works for your child and turn it into a routine.
2. Be mindful of “stress inducers.” Kids who are not getting enough sleep at night are prone to being more susceptible to stress. Encourage your child to turn off his electronics 30 minutes before he goes to bed. The best place to charge those phones and tablets is outside the bedroom so he isn’t distracted while trying to fall asleep. And watch out for those energy drinks. The extra caffeine can keep kids up all night.
3. Watch your expectations. Despite our best efforts, parents can actually bring more stress into a child’s life. In fact, kids often say that the biggest cause of stress is their parents. Work on toning down your expectations of your child so that he realizes you love him for who he is and not the grades he gets.
“I have two young boys and I’m curious for this upcoming fall season with football, how do I balance homework and all these after school activities?” – Denise T.
Balancing everything can be tough. The key is to set realistic expectations for your kids and your family. Here are some ways to ensure that everyone’s on the same page:
1. Check your child’s schedule together. Sit down and map out the week together. Plug in time for school, activities, practices, homework and sleep. By mapping it out visually, it will help your family ensure there is time for everything. Ensure that there are some moments for downtime, friend time and maybe even some family time. Overloading doesn’t actually help children and it’s not worth the time and energy.
2. Set a house limit. Some families are making a “one activity” or “one sport” rule. Others are finding ways to cut activities. Eliminating just one thing can help create more balance.
3. Make the decision based on an individual basis and stick to it. Base your child’s schedule on how he handles stress and what he needs to thrive. Each child is different but kids don’t need all of those activities. Select the ones that build them up and add value or enrichment to their natural talent. Also keep the ones that your child absolutely adores. The key question to always ask yourself, “Is the activity worth the money, effort, time and energy?”
Further Reading: Here are some ways to get kids to open up about their school day.
Issue: Starting a New School
“My son Joshua’s going to a new school next year – middle school…I just want to know how to help him cope with attending a new school, making friends and not being so nervous about attending the school.” – Jennifer M. from Brunswick, GA
Transitioning to a new school can be challenging for kids at every level. A big part of school success, especially in middle school, is fitting in and finding friends. Kids don’t necessarily need a lot of friends, but they do need a few loyal buddies. Here’s how you can help your child develop strong friendships:
1. Teach conversation starters. Provide your child with some ways to get the conversation started. “Hi! I’m John. Are you on the soccer team? Do you go to this school? Live in this area?” It’s best to help them focus on interests they have in common. Kids learn social skills best by showing, not by telling. Practice these skills together until they become a habit.
2. Look for kids who share your child’s interests. Young kids often choose friends based on proximity while older kids often choice friends based on similarity. Before the big move, sign your child up for clubs or group lessons in your new community that are based on his interests. It will be a great way for him to meet people who are interested in similar activities in your new town.
3. Make friends with the parents. Your child’s not the only one that should be making friends in the new community. You should too! Join the PTA, become a soccer mom, or volunteer at his school. As you get to know other parents and their kids, you’ll have the opportunity to introduce your child to new friends.
Further Reading: Check out the Parent Toolkit’s blog series about school transitions and this piece about teaching kids social skills as they transition back to school. [Link to Faye’s upcoming blog about social skills – being published on 8/24]
“I have a daughter going into 3rd grade, I would like to know what’s the best way to help her to go off to school each day and feel safe?” – Cheri R. Muskateen, IA
Parents often worry about their child’s safety. News coverage of crime can trigger anxiety in parents. But children need to feel safe and secure and you can help them. Here are some ways to build up the safety net:
1. Dig deeper. Try to find out what is fueling her concerns. Is it bullying on the bus? Maybe another incident that happened in the local community? Ask your child, “Where do you feel safest and when?” It’s a great way to find out your child’s level of safety.
2. Create safety nets. Every child needs to know there’s a person to whom they can go for help. Whether it’s a friend, a mentor, a teacher, the school nurse – everyone needs someone. Ask your child, ”If there was a problem, who would you go to?” Ensure that she has someone and if not, suggest some people. Convey that you have trust in her school and that they are there to keep kids safe. If she needs further reassurance, show her the school’s safety plan on their website.
3. Temper the news. Turn off the TV when you’re not in the room with your child and reassure your child if a frightening event happens. With our 24/7 data driven world, don’t assume they aren’t hearing about it. Your reassurance can help calm her nerves.
4. Share good news reports. Many children only hear the doom and gloom, so each night before bed share the good news in the world. Make a habit of clipping out good news from the back pages of the newspaper – often where they feature the wonderful things that are happening in the world.
5. Keep an eye on anxiety. If it increases or lasts too long from your child’s normal behavior, seek help.
Further Reading: NBC News correspondent Rehema Ellis explains why she turned off the news at home.
“My Daughter is 13 and she is at the age where she is starting to deal with bullying and school, how girls can be mean and catty, and I just wanted to ask how I can help her deal with that.” – Amy P. Pennasaw, GA
Mean-girl bullying is a quickly growing trend that knows no boundaries. Rural or urban, rich or poor – our New American Girl is seems to be crueler, especially during those tween years. Here’s some advice to combat bullying:
1. Open the conversation. By 3rd grade, our kids are telling us about bullying because of humiliation and fear of retaliation. Let her know you’re there for her, you understand it’s a problems and that you empathize with her. Watching movies like Clueless or Mean Girls is one way moms are opening the dialogue with their girls.
2. Get educated about bullying. Get educated about this important topic by reading Rachel Simmons Odd Girl Out or Rosalind Wiseman’s Queen Bee and Wannabe so you understand relational aggression, know the signs, and can get her support.
3. Watch her friends. Bond with mothers who are like you and share your concerns. Plan activities to do together with your daughters (yoga classes, mother-daughter book clubs, tennis lesson, etc.). The more you stay involved in your daughter’s life, the more you will have the chance to connect with her peers and their mothers. This also gives you a chance to see how mothers interact with their daughters. Very often mean girls have mean moms.
4. Help her find her voice. Practice assertiveness, especially strong body language.
5. Help her find healthy outside interests. We all need ways to relax. Help connect your daughter with additional activities like horseback riding, knitting, reading, swimming, or even tennis.
Further Reading: Stopping bullying at all levels can be tough for parents. Here’s some additional advice on steps parents can take, how to address cyberbullying, and a recap of the Twitter chat that we did about this important topic.