What can stress out a parent? A child that’s stressed out about going back to school. Moms and dads know when their kids are stressed. It’s a gut instinct! Listen to your gut. You probably know that already. That’s why you’re here looking for ways to reduce back-to-school stress and anxiety for your child. Don’t worry moms and dads, back-to-school stress is common and there are ways to lower your child’s stress. Then you can get back to worrying about crossing off everything on that school supply list.

You may have heard that the average high school student has the same level of anxiety as a patient in a 1950’s psychiatric ward did. (1) As a parent you want to reduce your child’s stress. Stress will look different for every child and at every stage. Some are pretty obvious, and others are a little more subtle. Let’s talk about some of the ways to spot back-to-school jitters, along with helpful tips to reduce back-to-school stress before it even starts, and what to do if your child is exhibiting signs of anxiety.

Signs of Back-to-School Stress

  • Your child is acting out, becoming irritable or moody
  • There have been changes in your child’s sleep patterns or they have nightmares
  • Your child is avoiding talking about or preparing for school
  • Stomach aches and headaches are a sign of stress
  • Changes in eating habits
  • They tell you they don’t want to go to school (that’s a more obvious one)
  • You notice nervous habits like nail-biting
  • They become more distant from friends or family

Were some of the signs on this list familiar? Don’t be alarmed by your child’s stress. It’s a parent’s job to help them learn to appropriately respond to stress and to know when it’s a sign of something bigger that needs further help. If you get stressed out about it that will only heighten your child’s feelings of anxiousness. Arm yourself with ways to lower your child’s stress levels.

Ways to Reduce Back-to School Stress

Help Them Breathe

Stress causes the body to respond as if it was in danger, also known as fight-or-flight mode. The heart rate goes up, breathing increases, and cortisol increases. Breathing exercises can be a great tool for taking your child out of fight-or-flight mode and into a state of relaxation. Check out our article on a breathing tool for kids that actually can work for all ages to calm anxiety and stress.

Talk About Their Concerns

Give them space to share their concerns and really listen for what might be causing the stress. Your child might not even realize what is making them anxious and by talking through the upcoming transition you might be able to find ways to reduce what is causing the stress.

Give Them a Transitional Object

Give your child a special object to help them through the day. This object will remind them of the comforts of home while they are away. Depending on the age of the child and their interests it could be a figurine, a piece of jewelry, a watch, or a notebook to write down concerns. When you give them the object, let them know that only a few people will know the special meaning of this object. If they are stressed during the day, they can touch it and remember that you are thinking of them. With a notebook they can write down any concerns or worries that they might want to share with you later.

Start Building a Routine

If possible, start building a routine before school even starts so they can ease back into the transition. Start with regular bedtimes, waking times, and mealtimes. Create a calendar or whiteboard with upcoming events and schedules so they know what is coming up. Sometimes children are simply worried about the unknown. Routines and healthy sleep habits are important for keeping stress low.

Get Them Outside and Make Time for Play

There are so many benefits to outdoor play and unstructured playtime and that includes stress relief. We don’t always think of the stress children are under, but children have stress too. Vitamin D and exposure to nature help calm children and are proven to reduce anxiety in all ages, including adults. (2) Unstructured play helps children with problem solving and relationship building skills – which also help to reduce stress.

Get Them Adjusted

Getting adjusted regularly is a critical part of your child’s wellness. A chiropractic adjustment will remove stress from the nervous system allowing the body to function better. A study done in 2017 found that children who received regular chiropractic adjustments had lower rates of depression, anxiety, fatigue, and pain than those who did not. (3) Find a doctor who will work with the whole family to promote every aspect of health.

What About Long-term Stress and Anxiety in Children?

Anxiety and depression have become the most frequently diagnosed disorders. Just because something is common doesn’t mean it’s normal. If your child is experiencing symptoms of long-term stress, it’s important to get to the root causes that are contributing to that. The best way to do that is by working with a doctor trained to look at the body as a whole.

So, what is happening in one part of the body might be affecting other parts of the body. For example, what is happening in the gut could be impacting the brain. Many parents don’t realize that anxiety or depression can start in the gut. Many of the body’s neurotransmitters and hormones are formed in the gut. Those chemical messengers work throughout the body to tell it how to function. Chronic inflammation, infections, and hormone imbalances can impact the formation of these chemical messengers. Low taurine or serotonin can contribute to anxiety or depression while high norepinephrine can contribute to anxiousness.

Your child’s stomachache could be a sign of anxiety. Researchers have found that children who had frequent stomachaches with no cause had a 50% risk of an anxiety disorder in teen or adulthood while the group that didn’t only had a 20% risk. (4)

The only way to know what might be causing your child’s anxiety is to have them properly tested.

Provide a Healthy Diet to Lower Inflammation

We often hear about inflammation, but rarely is it discussed when talking about children. We see chronic diseases are at a higher rate and at increasingly younger ages. Much of that can be linked back to our diets.

The American diet is high in inflammatory foods like wheat, sugar, soy, milk, processed foods, and others which contribute to inflammation. These are often the foods busy families feed their children and unknowingly contribute to inflammation which can cause stress. One study found that adolescents who had mental health concerns saw improvement after dietary intervention. (5) You could also unknowingly be feeding your child healthy foods they are allergic to and contribute to their inflammation.

Feed your child a healthy diet of whole foods and make sure they have had their allergies tested to keep inflammation from adding to those back-to-school jitters.

Be Proactive to Reduce Back-to-School Stress and Anxiety

Help your child build a healthy lifestyle to reduce back-to-school stress and learn to cope with stress throughout the year. Be sure to find ways to reduce your stress when dealing with that back to school list. The habits your child develops now can set them up for sickness or it can build their body for health.

Resources:

  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anxiety-files/200804/how-big-problem-is-anxiety
  2. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/apa.13285
  3. http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/29260883
  4. https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/12/risk-of-adult-anxiety-seen-in-childrens-stomachaches/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3177848/