By Nikki Taylor, Senior Manager, Early Years and Family Supports, Oakville Parent-Child Centre
“In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.” Fred Rogers, host of the television series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
After a fun-filled and relaxing summer, it’s time for children to head back to school. Some families rejoice in anticipation of getting back to the routine and structure that the school year brings, while others feel reluctance, butterflies in the tummy, or more intense anxiety about the situation. Even for those who are excited, there is always an element of stress associated with this familiar transition.
Positive stress is a good thing, and in fact, an essential part of healthy child development. According to the Centre on the Developing Child at Harvard University:
“Positive stress refers to moderate, short-lived stress responses, such as brief increases in heart rate or mild changes in the body’s stress hormone levels. This kind of stress is a normal part of life, and learning to adjust to it is an essential feature of healthy development. Adverse events that provoke positive stress responses tend to be those that a child can learn to control and manage well with the support of caring adults, and which occur against the backdrop of generally safe, warm, and positive relationships. The challenges of meeting new people, dealing with frustration, entering a new child care setting, getting an immunization, or overcoming a fear of animals each can be positive stressors if a child has the support needed to develop a sense of mastery. This is an important part of the normal developmental process.”
So it turns out that the stress experienced by children as they head back to school can be good for them; but how do we ensure that it remains in the “positive stress” category?
Here are 7 tips to consider as families make the transition to school this fall:
- Children express stress in different ways. Know how children show you they are stressed.
- Stress is contagious. Be aware of your own stress and do your best to manage it well. The kids are watching.
- “Name it to tame it.” Dr. Dan Siegel talks about the importance of naming feelings for children. Stress is reduced when we acknowledge children’s feelings rather than denying or distracting them. Mix things up a little and try using some new emotional vocabulary. This list of feelings can help get you started.
- Get back to basics. Recommend a consistent routine, healthy nutrition, physical activity and ample sleep all help to reduce stress for everyone.
- Children’s stress is significantly reduced when parents are present, focused, calm and available. Ask parents to consider scaling back a little on the activities. Busy lives often result in chaos and disconnection. Spending time together, such as family meals, is shown in research to help build relationships, lower stress and is a wonderful way to connect with each other.
- Pillow talk is a bedtime strategy that can be highly effective in reducing stress. Tell parents to allow enough time for a child to relax, process the day and talk with you about anything that may come up. They should focus on listening rather than advising or solving problems. Children who have regular bedtime talk sessions with parents come to count on them and they often help children to relax and sleep better. This can take quite a lot of time, so parents need to be prepared.
- Let parents know about the benefits of staying connected to the school. When children see that parents are interested and engaged in positive ways to the school community, it tells them that school is important and also helps parents to understand some of what their child is experiencing every day.
Other Resources for Families
For more information on Family Assets (the everyday interactions, values, skills and relationships families can focus on to help them thrive), ourkidsnetwork.ca/Public/Families-Matter.
Keep Connected offers all kinds of families—and organizations that support them—ideas, activities, and experiences to help build strong family relationships. Our goal is to strengthen family relationships to help kids be and become their best selves.