Back To School Blues? You’re Not Alone

Back to school….Three little words that evoke a variety of emotions for parents and teens alike.

For parents, back to school means more juggling, more conflicts about getting schoolwork done, tougher mornings, and more drama.  Although the structure of a school day and week is definitely nice.

For our teens, it’s generally not fun to go from summer to the intensity of the school year, particularly these days when the stakes are even higher.  Some of our teens will adjust well; many will struggle.

It’s important to separate our feelings from our teen’s, so that we can be as supportive as they may need. There’s a saying that you’re only as happy as your least happy child. Most of us can relate to that a little too intimately. It’s also not uncommon for our own school experiences to get entangled with our child’s.   Our own miserable time in high school can inadvertently create fear in our teens, so be careful not to share too much!

So how can we ease the transition back to school?

Empathy. Some of our kids are not “natural students,” or they don’t “fit” into their school. Imagine sitting for 7 hours a day in a place you don’t like, with people you don’t like, and work that is incredibly challenging. As adults, we might look for a new job if that was our reality. Our kids don’t have the option of a new “job,” so have empathy for them, and find things for them to look forward to outside of school. Maybe they love to bake? Find a baking class. Maybe music is their thing. Support their practicing, lessons, etc.

Normalizing. If they’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed out, let them know they are not alone in their feelings.   It’s “normal” for transitions to take time or to feel overwhelmed. Remind them of times they’ve dealt with difficult situations, and/or introduce them to new coping skills. Apps like Mindshift, Stop, Breathe, Think, and Headspace are great (and free) ways to de-stress.

Listening. If they come home complaining, it’s so tempting to tell them how to “fix” their issue or minimize their struggle. But, when we do this, we send the message that their feelings are something to be fixed, rather than felt, and that they are incapable of coming to their own solutions.   Listening and validating their struggle goes a long way towards improving your relationship.  If you can’t help yourself and need to offer them some guidance, listen FIRST, then advise.

Sleep. Research says teens need 8-10 hours of sleep per night.   Less than half of teens get that, and the majority get less than seven.   Lack of sleep has been linked to depression, lower performance in school, and stimulant abuse.  With juggling homework, extracurriculars, and teen life, it’s often impossible to get our teens to the coveted eight hours. What we can do however, is improve the quality of their sleep. Take their devices out of their room at night, so they are not suffering the negative effects of their device’s blue light, or getting awakened by incessant texts.

Know when to reach out. If it’s been a few weeks, and you are seeing dramatic changes in your teen, or their anxiety is not abating, it may be time for professional help. Maybe your child’s school has resources available on campus. If not, your school counselor or pediatrician can be helpful referral sources.

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