A Back to School Parenting Job: Containing Our Own Anxiety over the Kids’ Anxiety

Even if parents are thrilled to have their kids up early and out of the house for a reliable chunk of the day, back-to-school time can still be pretty stressful….  
Is it my imagination, or is back-to-school time getting earlier and earlier?

By mid-August, my kids and grand kids are regretfully leaving the beach or the woods or some other laid back form of summer living, to get ready for the tighter scheduling of fall. It’s ramp-up time for school and after-school activities.  It’s all about juggling carpools, babysitters, and scheduling preferences for curricula and clubs.  It can be a yank.

Even if parents are thrilled to have their kids up early and out of the house for a reliable chunk of the day, it still can be stressful.  

First, any transition has built-in stressors, even the good ones. Often families or couples will “facilitate” a shift from a time of togetherness to a time of separateness – or vice versa - with an uptick of crankiness, withdrawal or arguments. Apparently, this is how a lot of us get from here to there, and in and of itself, no big cause for concern. The transition gets made and things settle down. Awareness of this oddball but universal family dynamic helps.

Second, it usually means changes in everyone’s sleep schedule, and that can be a tough adjustment.  If possible, start a couple weeks early and try to ease into getting the kids to bed earlier.

Third, a kid – even a successful, confident kid - is likely to be feeling anxious about what’s ahead for them. It could be the academic demands of the coming year; or it could be worries about their social standing in the new class – will a good friend be there?  Will the mean kids be there? Is it a new school altogether, where they can get a crack at tweaking their persona and redefining themselves? 

It’s good to talk this stuff over if they’re willing.  But with these conversations, it’s good to follow the old 75%-25% rule. That’s 75% (or more) asking and listening; and 25% (or less) talking and advising.  

Most of us, when we hear our kids are worried or upset, get worried and upset ourselves, and launch prematurely into parental coaching, advising, fixing, problem-solving.  It’s very hard not to. Still, my best advice is to put a lid on it and listen, get more information. 

Don’t take ownership of the problem – it’s not yours.  You may have a host of good solutions in your head, and you may ultimately have to deploy some of them. But see what your kid thinks first. Don’t just react and escalate the anxiety with your own.

What helps parents contain their anxiety over their kids’ anxiety?   Here are a few ideas:

•    Let your sense of humor be your best friend.  Find the places where it’s funny (especially where you are funny) and play with them.  Humor saves us and others from ourselves.
•    Keep your perspective.  This too shall pass.  Remember, this is a First World Problem and in the larger context, these are luxurious concerns.  Lots of kids don’t have schools to return to.  
•    Repeat this thought: you do not have the perfect kid and you are not the perfect parent.  Now, BREATHE that expectation right out of your body.  Doesn’t that feel good  ?  Repeat.
•    Take 5 or 10 minutes at the start and end of the day to do some simple relaxation, guided imagery or meditation.  Press PLAY and listen, or do it in your own head.  If you’re stressed, you’ll think you don’t have time. But that’s just a trick stress  plays with your head. You actually do, and it will extend time in the long run.  

Take care and be well.  

br signature