Riding the School Stress Roller Coaster

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Happy New Year! It’s that time of year again, when parents, teachers, and students are all pretty excited about getting back into school. There’s a buzz in the air, as our children are filled with giddy anticipation about meeting new teachers and re-uniting with old friends. And there’s a hopeful joy as we shop for new back-to-school clothes, backpacks, and supplies.

The first few days of new-school-year excitement gradually settle down into a familiar routine. – Getting up and out of the house early in the morning, learning teachers expectations and rules, staking out territory in the cafeteria at lunch time, figuring out your “specials” days, or your “A” and “B” days, or whatever the schedule may bring.

Yet underneath all that fresh-start positive energy, lurks a set of nearly universal fears and frustrations, including:

  • Can I do this? Can I keep up?
  • Will I understand what the teacher wants – in class, on tests?
  • Will I do well enough that my parents will be proud, or at least not angry?
  • Where do I fit in, here?
  • What are the other kids thinking of me?
  • Am I good enough? Smart enough? Athletic enough? Popular enough?
  • Am I enough?
  • Unfortunately, for many of our kids, the private, self-talk answers to these questions are filled with self
  • doubt, and all too often, self-loathing.

The ever-increasing demands to do, do, do – and be awesome at it, are taking their toll on our children. The messages to “do more, have more, be more” being put out there by corporate interests on mass media, and by peer pressures on social media, keep fueling wildfires of insecurity in our kids. What do you think “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) is all about?!

The core underlying problem of most kids I see in therapy these days is one of a deep sense of inadequacy. So many kids – amazingly sweet, sensitive, clever, intelligent, creative, dream-weaving, gung-ho, kind, loving kids – don’t believe they’re lovable. Underneath their cool exterior – or their obnoxious behaviors or their anxious withdrawals – they don’t feel worthy. They often feel overwhelmed and under-equipped to deal with seemingly constant demands to be successful, if not superstars – especially at school.

Of course, some expectations to achieve, some aspirations to do well, are healthy. Moderate degrees of stress or pressure to perform can challenge us to rise to the occasion and reach our potentials. Challenging our kids to find ways to rise up and be their best selves is the sacred work of parents and teachers.

Yet too often today the stress levels for students – and for their parents and teachers as well – is clearly over the top. I spend every workday, either in my office or in schools, working to detox kids – committed to helping them find a way off of the addictive stress treadmills they’re forever running on.

SO – What can you do to help your child tame the stressful fears and frustrations they may feel as they go through this school year?

1. Be mindful

Find a way to regularly practice building your mindfulness skills (using apps or classes, including those at AMindfulVillage.com). Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to what is here, now – without judgment. It’s learning how to see clearly in the moment what is going on around you and within you, and doing so with kindness and curiosity. When you learn how to be fully present – clear and calm – amidst the chaos of daily life, you’ll be able to more frequently attend to your child with your full, best self. Your children will shine in the light of your loving presence, which too often may get clouded over by our own daily stressors. Your children can also take classes to develop their mindfulness skills, so they can be more present in their own lives, and less fearful or frustrated.

2. Be intentional

Listen with an open mind. As Stephen Covey says, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand, they listen with the intent to reply.” How are you listening to your children? Let this intention be your guide: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

3. Be compassionate

Speak with an open heart. Before opening your mouth to say something to your child, pause to reflect on these 3 questions: “1. Is it true? 2. Is it kind? 3. Is it useful?” Set the intention to speak more truthfully and kindly. And gently remind yourself to return to this loving-kindness again and again.

With these tools in our mindful parenting toolkit, here’s to a school-year filled with just the right amount of successes, challenges, and happiness for each of our children.