“Mindfulness” may not be the first word that springs to mind when you think “back to school.” But a mindful approach could be your best bet for minimising stress.
Back to school is a whole lot more than just back to school. It’s also back to structure - for kids and for the whole family. Back to school means back to set bedtimes, back to early alarms, back to remembering lunch money and sports bags and after-school activities - not to mention back to study itself.
That’s a big transition from the laid-back, fun-in-the-sun mode of the typical Aussie summer holiday. But this year, there’s been an added complication for many families: the emotional and physical toll of the season’s unprecedented bushfire devastation.
That means many children will not have experienced a carefree or worry-free break. In fact, they may have experienced more stress this summer - whether they’ve been personally affected by tragedy, or simply watched it and worried about it.
For all of these reasons, the transition to a new school year can be tough for kids. But taking a mindful approach to managing and minimising stress can ease the way, and help them put their best foot forward.
The essence of mindful parenting, experts remind us, is simply noticing and being present. So no prizes for guessing that the number-one tip is simply
IDENTIFY THE SIGNS OF STRESS
Parents who don’t notice the red flags can’t mount effective interventions against excessive worry. So what should you look for?
Common signals include headaches and tummy aches, increased irritability and/or anger - and difficulty sleeping. In fact, according to recent research, 44% of kids report trouble sleeping at the end of the summer holidays: a telltale sign that anticipation may be heading towards anxiety.
Encourage your kids to verbalise any worry they may be experiencing, by letting them know it’s safe to confide in you - and that you won’t dismiss their fears with a breezy, “Oh, but that’s silly!” or rush in with a solution.
Some experts recommend a “worry wall” - a stress-busting activity that involves kids writing down their worries on post-it notes. The notes are then placed on a wall where they can see them in the light of day, literally, and get perspective on their feelings.
Often you don’t need to intervene at all. Simply allowing your child to express her emotions without shame or blame is the best “solution” parents can offer.
The essence of mindful parenting, experts remind us, is simply noticing and being present.
If your child is so stressed she’s resisting going to school, it can be super-frustrating for mum and dad. But defining reluctance or even downright refusal as “disobedience” will not solve the problem, except possibly in the short term.
There is a reason kids feel the way they do about school - whether they love it, hate it, or just seem indifferent. A mindful approach means staying present with your child’s emotions, and listening carefully and without judgment to work out the root of the problem.
Sometimes you’ll be able to address the problem directly and help your child to find a solution.
But again, in many cases simply creating a safe space for your child to confide their worries - and accepting that their concerns are genuine and valid - is all the “solution” that’s required.
Kids from pre-school up to Year Three need 12 hours’ sleep every night. And even teens required a solid eight to 10 hours, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Virtually every parenting expert on the planet offers the same advice on this one: keep screens out of the bedroom, and shut down device activity an hour before bedtime.
Of course, the challenge here is that stress can cause sleep disruption. So can device use at bedtime. Virtually every parenting expert on the planet offers the same advice on this one: keep screens out of the bedroom, and shut down device activity an hour before bedtime.
PLAN AHEAD: THE FIRST WEEK, AND EVERY WEEK
Back-to-school time can be stressful for mum and dad too - and kids of course pick up on that. But structure can be your friend - really! Get the kids to help you create a visual schedule and/or checklist to keep the whole family on the same page.
Maybe this is something you’ve always been meaning to do, but never quite got around to it? Well, now’s the perfect time!
MAKE TIME FOR ‘PDF’
That’s PLAYTIME (unstructured), DOWNTIME (sleep, rest and transition periods) and FAMILY TIME (dinners, movie or games nights, etc.), say experts. The connecting thread here? Unplugged time! Remember, it’s offline, face-to-face, real-life moments that help kids de-stress and really … well, connect! And being mindful means not leaving those moments to chance.
Using strong, customisable parental controls is the most effective way to ensure that screen-time stays balanced and healthy when kids head back to school. And what better time to introduce some new boundaries than right now?
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