6 Tips for Managing Back-to-School Stress

Expert advice for starting the school year off strong. 

As the whole family makes the transition into back-to-school mode, there are a variety of stressors that plague both kids and parents alike—from difficult homework to a stricter bedtime. On this week’s episode of “The Labor of Love,” host and RealSimple.com editor Lori Leibovich talks to Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education and co-author of Overloaded and Underprepared: Strategies for Stronger Schools and Healthy, Successful Kids, and Michele Kambolis, a Vancouver-based child and family therapist and author of Generation Stressed: Play-Based Tools to Help Your Child Overcome Anxiety about what parents can do to help the family stay calm under new pressures. Below, a few tips from Pope and Kambolis on limiting back-to-school stress.

1. Learn how to identify it. There are a variety of ways that stress can express itself, but because it’s often internalized, it can be hard to identify in kids. Look for red flags and common signals, such as difficulty sleeping, headaches, stomach aches, and changes in behavior (irritability and temper tantrums).

2. Listen carefully to your child. If your child is complaining about not wanting to go to school or having difficulty with their work, figure out the root of the problem. Is it a teacher issue? A bully? Are they over-scheduled? Parents can likely address most of these problems either at home or by contacting school administrators.

3. Get the kids to bed. Kids need more sleep than most people realize. While children up to third grade may require up to 12 hours per night, even high schoolers still need a solid eight to 10 hours, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Quickly address factors that may be resulting in sleep loss, such as managing a demanding schedule, feeling anxious, or using technology late at night.

4. Plan ahead for the week. Managing children can become a point of contention between couples, but by being pro-active, parents can prevent conflict from arising during the week. Have long-term conversations (what goals do we want to set this year?) as well as short-term (how are we going to manage the morning routine?), and create a visual schedule on a white board to keep the whole family informed.

5. Create a homework contract. Parents are responsible for making sure kids have time and space to do their work, but they shouldn’t be acting as a tutor, says Pope. A homework contract should outline when the child will do their work (after a snack or before basketball practice, for example) to ensure it gets done—but leaves the grading for the teacher.

6. Make time for ‘PDF’. In this case, ‘PDF’ stands for playtime (which should be unstructured), downtime (sleep and transition periods), and family time (such as family dinners). While technology can occasionally be a part of PDF, the idea is that these are moments when the family is not plugged in.

For more advice, listen to the full episode below. Don’t forget to subscribe and review on iTunes!