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Managing Back-to-School Stress


Maria L. (Marilou) Gonzales, PsyD, is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist at Crystal Run Healthcare, practicing out of the organization’s Haverstraw and West Nyack facilities.  Dr. Gonzales conducts psychological evaluations and diagnostic assessments and provides psychotherapy.  She primarily works with children, adolescents, and young adults on a range of concerns from primary to complex medical problems including work-life balance, loss and grief, sadness, depression and mood disorders, anxiety and stress, relationship and family conflicts, and life-stage transitions. Dr. Gonzales has a PsyD in Clinical Psychology and is licensed through the state of New York. 

As we prepare to say farewell to the relaxing days of summer, it’s time to focus on a new school year.  Stress is not only a part of adulthood, but also childhood, and it’s easy to overlook a child’s nervousness or anxiety as school begins.  Some children are starting a new school, changing school districts, facing a more rigorous academic year, or dealing with difficult social situations.  Show an active interest in supporting and partnering with your child in building resilience and developing healthy coping styles through change, transition, as well as adversity.  Help to make the often harsh transition much easier with these tips for starting the school year off on the right foot:

1) Reset your daily schedule.  The largest keys to a student’s success are getting enough sleep and sticking to a consistent routine.  Work with your child to develop a schedule that will allow them time to complete homework, work on projects and study for tests – while engaging in activities, getting adequate sleep, and having playtime. 

2) Organize workspace and supplies.  Declutter and stock up on needed supplies and ensure the workspace is quiet and distraction free.  Make sure to have a system for processing school work (e.g., an accordion file folder, paper trays, or laptop) and maintain upcoming assignments front and center.  Discuss with your child the working conditions that will lead to the best homework outcomes.  Recognize that all children learn in different ways and have different work styles – some do homework all at once, while others need to take frequent breaks. 

3) Talk to and empathize with your child.  Act as a cheerleader and validate their stress or overwhelming feelings.  Should your child need additional support, contact the school counselor or teacher as your child may need special accommodations during this transition. Your child’s pediatrician can also be a good resource for information.  Parent-child or family time should not be underestimated as talking, discussions, open communication, and bonding activities can act as a protective factor for long-term academic participation and overall well-being.

4) Build an accessible network of support.  Knowledge about the school and community will better equip you to understand the transition your child is undergoing (e.g., worries about a having a new teacher, pressure from other children on how to look and feel, etc.).  Consider joining a school or local community organization or Parent (Mom’s) Facebook page to learn more about setting up carpools, referrals for babysitting, current children’s events, and/or neighborhood locations that are safe for children to hang out at. 

5) Get into the “Back-to-School Rhythm”.  Your mind may still be at the beach and your child’s mind may still be at camp.  Take a trip to the grocery store to get some cool snacks or meals for lunch.  Purchase new clothes and wash them to help them smell and feel fresh for the new school year.  If necessary, visit the school with your child for a re-familiarizing tour.  Show your child his or her bus stop and go over the plan for getting to and from.

The above tips should help you get a good start on the new school year.  If your child has any questions or concerns he or she might have, make it known that you are always available.  Have a wonderful school year!