Beat Back-to-School Stress!
by Caitlin Van Den Brink From new coaches and extracurricular activities to untested teachers and—gulp!—even unfamiliar schools and daycares, the flurry of new things brought about by a new school year can put a lot of pressure on kids. (Especially since they’ve just gotten used to being able to relax and play all day!)
While mixing things up sometimes and testing new waters can be good for all of us, the stress that these new waters might bring can result in a range of education-disrupting symptoms. Just like adults, stressed-out kids can experience sleep problems, mood swings, headaches, or stomach aches. Some children may pick up bad habits such as nail biting, and others may lie or bully others.
Fortunately, parents can help kids manage stress by incorporating a few healthy habits into their daily routines
Sleep it off: A lack of sleep—no matter the cause—can result in a myriad of issues that busy students don’t need affecting their already full days, including a low mood, forgetfulness, and a reduced ability to tolerate stress.
Before September rolls around, make sure that the kids have healthy sleep habits, such as a regular bedtime and wakeup time, a regular bedtime routine, and a sleep-inducing bedroom … with no computers or TVs.
Children aged three to 12 should get at least 10 hours of sleep each night, and preteens and teens should get at least eight hours of shut-eye.
Share a healthy meal:
Stress can wreck havoc on our appetite—and that of our kids, too. Whether it’s exam-induced snakes in the stomach causing queasiness or more chronic stress resulting in the consumption of sugar-filled snacks, poor diet can affect our blood sugar levels, causing headaches, irritability, anxiety, and drowsiness.
While carbohydrates can help the body produce the feel-good hormone serotonin, make sure to opt for sources of complex carbs such as brown rice or whole grain bread, which can also help balance blood sugar levels.
Some other stress-busting nutrients to look for include vitamins C and E, omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium.
Depending on their activity levels, kids aged four to eight need at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, four servings of grains, two servings of dairy products, and one serving of protein each day. Preteens and teens generally need one to two servings more.
Send stress to the sidelines. There’s no denying that children are less active than ever. This is a shame, because exercise is a great way to free some of the day’s pent-up energy, release feel-good endorphins, and lower levels of stress hormones such as cortisol.
Getting enough exercise, though, doesn’t have to be a chore! Walking to and from school, enrolling in team sports, or just putting together a backyard soccer game with the rest of the neighbourhood kids are all great ways to get the blood flowing.
Kids and teens aged five to 18 should get at least 60 minutes of exercise each day.
Speak out: Rather than allowing a child to dwell on a stressful issue for days, discuss the matter with him or her to determine what’s causing feelings of stress or anxiety and what can be done to help reduce these feelings.
Talking about the problems at hand can show kids that their feelings are important, too, and it can help them feel confident about handling whatever’s causing them stress.