This blog post part of our series: A Thriving School Year. Read the whole series HERE.
There is no doubt that anxiety can creep into a family and disrupt a thriving school year.
Anxiety is not more prevalent now than it used to be — we just have words to explain it now, words we didn’t have when we were children.
There is so much research around our children — especially tweens and teens — showing signs of being very stressed and filled with anxiety.
Of course, there are a lot of reasons being tossed out for why that might be. Again, perhaps because we have the language for it now …
But social media and screen use may be adding to the stress and worries as well as the culture of perfectionism and fear of of missing out that is driving teens to want to do everything and not dare miss out on anything. And the push for good grades is harder than ever.
And while we can’t protect our children and wrap them in bubble wrap, there are so many boundaries we can set to honor their fears and worries and work with them on finding the right boundaries to reduce stress and fear.
These tips are meant to help you create peaceful boundaries to reduce stress and school anxiety.
The first year, I thought I’ll do everything — every fundraiser, every event, every social function.
The second year, I thought I’ll do mostly every fundraiser, mostly every event and mostly ever social function.
Now, we barely do anything unless it fits exactly into our values.
Everyone will be just fine if they miss an event. This may even include a few birthday party invitations if the timing just doesn’t work for our family.
The fear of missing out — and of being late or missing a deadline or getting into trouble — can weigh heavily on children increasing their anxiety threefold.
So just don’t put that level of expectation on them.
Say yes to what’s most important and happily and joyfully miss out on the rest.
Go Easy on the Kids
I have spent enough time in the classroom over the last 7 years to confidently say that our children work harder in school than most adults do at work.
In fact, last year my daughters’ school day step count surpassed 14K every single day. That’s a lot of walking and moving despite what we feel is a day of sitting. Not to mention so little downtime as recess and playtime gets smaller and smaller in their day.
So, take it easy on them. If they seem cranky and tired it’s because they ARE and you need to be gentle and walk with ease into your evening routines.
Again, saying no will be key. No to playing with friends. No to staying up late. No to watching TV.
Yes to downtime. Yes to more sleep. Yes to quality time. Yes to making sure that homework does get done.
Make Homework Fun Again
I wish I could get a temporary tattoo made with this and hand it out to parents who complain that their kids won’t do their homework.
Homework to our children is like cleaning to us — a chore. A job. Something we have to do but don’t wanna.
So, just like how we try to make things more fun and interesting, we have to do that for our children if we want the most defiant and the most distracted to sit down and focus at home.
Help your most reluctant child set up a special homework spot with fun art materials and lots of very sharp pencils and NO distractions. Not even a window.
Play very soft, gentle music. Pop some popcorn. And work next to your children on your own thing until they are done.
If they have a lot or really can’t focus, offer wiggle/play breaks — and rewards — along the way will help keep your child’s interest as well.
This can be one of the best times of your day together. And, you’re on hand to help if that’s needed.
Of course, you have to figure out the time that suits your child, too. If they are too tired or hungry, they won’t cooperate.
And, it’s OK to let homework go until the next morning, too. Sometimes we work better after a good night’s sleep.
Do NOT Compare
Every child is different.
And every child will change when you aren’t even expecting it.
When a child reads, how much they read or what they read has nothing to do with you or your parenting style and everything to do with YOUR child and their unique abilities and interests.
Help them. Coach them. Inspire them to be their best and do their best. But don’t even try and compare them to other children.
Your child will learn and develop at their own pace and that is perfectly wonderful. Love your child unconditionally, anyway. Make positive statements and celebrate even the small progress.
Seek out their strengths but don’t ever box them in to being good at only one thing or one kind of learner.
They may surprise you.
Set Effective Expectations
We have had a no-TV on school night’s rule for most of our girls’ school years.
It’s been a very serious rule. After long days in school, and homework, there’s just not enough time for TV, family time, dinner and active time outside.
When you explain all of that to children they usually understand. We also don’t allow any screens in the mornings. This works for us because it eliminates arguments.
You may have other rules that are important to your family. Like that you eat dinner together each night or breakfast each morning. Or, that you take a family walk every night before bedtime.
Just make sure you are clear and consistent so your child knows what to expect after a long, busy day at school. And, above all, be flexible. Some days that walk just might not happen. There’s a reason so state that to your child so they know why there is a change.
Display Your Expectations & Routines
We write our morning and afternoon routines on paper and put it where the kids can read it. You can do this in pictures, words or checklists.
Routines are a framework not a textbook, especially for the afternoons. We are always flexible based on schedule or child’s mood or family dynamics. The list is a guide for the day.
So long as they get everything done, the order doesn’t matter.
The consistency becomes something they look forward to — and that routine is good for the whole family.
Same goes for rules or expectations around homework or using screens. Once it’s in writing, it’s so much more powerful.
An anxious child needs routine and order and to understand what is happening at all times. While we’d all love to go with the flow on every single day, the truth is that anxious children need to know what’s happening in order to feel safe and secure.
And the sooner you help your child do that, the sooner they may bounce back from their anxiety.