By Keri Collins Lewis
MSU Ag Communications
Kids are not the only people feeling stressed about going back to school.
As families count down the days of summer, the idea of returning to schedules packed with work, school and extracurricular activities can cause a lot of tension.
Cassandra Kirkland, family life specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said getting organized now can help ease families into the required routines.
“Make a habit of creating a checklist of what is needed for the next day,” Kirkland said. “Just making a checklist can reduce stress, but it also serves as a starting point for organizing everything each family member needs to make the next morning easier.”
Identify a “launch pad” where everyone has a spot for their stuff, such as backpacks, lunches, car keys, sports equipment, cell phones, school IDs and jackets.
“Nightly routines, such as making sure homework has been completed, packing a lunch, setting out clothes for the next day and taking a bath not only help reduce stress in the morning, but also build good habits of responsibility and planning ahead,” Kirkland said.
Another way to stay on top of family activities is to have a family calendar that is easily accessible by everyone. Dry-erase, wipe-off or paper calendars can be color-coded for each family member. Parents with young children can incorporate magnets or stickers to add fun to the calendar, while also teaching concepts such as days of the week and months of the year.
“Families with teens may find an electronic family calendar more helpful,” Kirkland said. “Families can synch online calendars or use calendar applications in their phones to keep everyone up-to-date on appointments, activities and important events,” she said.
Even the most organized families can feel stressed if their busy schedules prevent them from getting proper rest.
Sleep is a key component to reducing back-to-school stress, said Lori Elmore-Staton, assistant professor in MSU’s School of Human Sciences.
“Taking a bath 20 to 30 minutes before bedtime can help children settle down, and that timeframe allows their bodies to cool off, which promotes better quality sleep,” Elmore-Staton said.
She stressed the importance of establishing routines and maintaining them consistently, even on the weekends.
“After a couple of weeks in a consistent routine, their bodies will automatically start to relax and settle down when you start the bedtime process,” she said. “Taking a bath, brushing their teeth and reading a bedtime story are extremely helpful ways to prepare children for bed.”
Keeping bedrooms quiet, cool, dark and comfortable promotes better sleep. A light, healthy snack before bedtime, such as bananas, dark leafy vegetables, berries, milk, peanut butter and whole grain foods can also help.
“Children should avoid caffeine, chocolate, and sugary or spicy foods before bedtime,” Elmore-Staton said. “They should also avoid screen time, whether it’s a TV, computer, cell phone or game console screen, because the light that is emitted from electronic screens can trick a child’s — and an adult’s — body into staying up longer. Children have less restful sleep when they fall asleep watching TV.”
Use the quiet time before bed to talk to children about any back-to-school anxieties they might be experiencing and brainstorm strategies for dealing with their fears.
“Use deep breathing techniques, review class material regularly to avoid test anxiety and formulate positive messages to counteract the negative messages your children may hear during the day,” Kirkland said. “Be aware of your children’s friends and the potential bullies in the classroom. Make communication part of your nightly routine, and as your family relationships get stronger, your stress level should decrease.”