The flurry of getting ready for school—buying school supplies, new clothes, and managing fears related to new teachers or new schools—is exciting but stressful. Managing back-to-school stress is important for living with chronic pain, whether you are the one living with pain or your child. Thankfully, it is possible to make returning to school less stressful while still ensuring thorough preparations for the main event. Here are some easy tips to get started.
1. Start preparing early
Often, time constraints are the most anxiety-provoking conditions. We can do anything as long as there’s enough time to do it.
With this in mind, start shopping for clothes and other supplies a few months earlier than you normally would. You might miss a few sales, but you’ll also miss the crowds and time-crunch pressure, which both contribute to back-to-school stress.
You can shop early for these and avoid the rush by seeing if your child’s school has posted a list of needed supplies on their website. If not, purchase the things you know you’ll need as you see them go on sale over the summer.
A new lunchbox and backpack are probably necessities, as are pencils, pens, and loose leaf paper. Classrooms always need tissues and hand sanitizer, so look forward to helping the teachers out, too.
As the kids continue to grow and sprout throughout the summer, think ahead to school clothes as you replenish their supply. Many dress codes specify knee-length shorts or skirts, so as your kids outgrow their summer clothes, replace them with dress code-ready substitutes. Summer clothes go on sale mid-July, and back to school time clothes generally feature sweaters and jeans.
Although these may be okay for classrooms that are air conditioned to Arctic temperatures, using on-sale summer clothes to layer with a light sweater may be the best idea until chillier weather comes around.
Most states require some form of immunizations for students to enter school. Check with your school system early to see what is required, then make an appointment if your child needs vaccinations. Doctors’ offices get slammed with last-minute requests every year. If you can, schedule your appointments early in the summer to avoid the rush.
2. Identify tasks and complete them on feel-good days
People without chronic pain may identify a particular day of the week to complete certain tasks. However, chronic pain can be unpredictable. You might decide to visit the school supply store on Wednesday, but wake up not feeling well. Then, you miss your goal, your schedule falls behind, and stress levels rise.
Skip the whole problem by making a list of everything you have to do, and then identifying shopping goals by the week. Then, when you have a good day, seize the opportunity to shop for clothes or other supplies.
This strategy for minimizing back-to-school stress is made possible by the first goal: allotting yourself plenty of time for shopping. When you’re not under a time crunch for getting everything done, it’s no big deal to miss a target by a few days or even a week. No problem!
3. Shop online
Consider purchasing books, pencils, folders, calculators, and other fundamental supplies online. Some websites offer the option to purchase online, and then pick up in store or, like Amazon, ship them directly to your house. Do all the browsing from the comfort of your own home and then slide into the store to effortlessly pick up the needed items and return home without stress.
Shopping online for clothes is an option as well, but one that might result in extra legwork if you need to return ill-fitting pieces or those that don’t meet your expectations. If you’re managing chronic pain, the last thing you want is to make extra trips to the store when you thought your shopping was completed.
Whatever you decide, managing back-to-school stress is all about making smart, strategic decisions.
4. Get organized
Even if organization doesn’t feel natural to you, knowing where to find everything helps ease back-to-school stress, as does living in an environment that feels orderly and under control.
The pace of life picks up once school gets back in session, so taking some time to organize papers and files, supplies and clothes, purchasing shelves and organizers when necessary—they do help!—will go a long way to minimizing stress in the days leading up to school.
Having everything you need well within reach also comes in handy on those days where you just don’t feel like moving.
5. Practice going to school
If your child is the one who is managing back-to-school stress and chronic pain, consider easing first-day jitters by practicing the all-important day. This is an especially good idea if it’s your child’s first year in a new school.
Walk, bike, or drive to school the way you plan to on an ordinary day so the youngster knows what to expect and becomes acclimated to the route and anything he or she might encounter along the way. With children who might be walking to school by themselves, give them safety tips, such as looking both ways before crossing the street and making sure to wait for the crossing guard to help them.
If possible, you might contact the teacher and see if meeting before the first day of school is possible. That way, your child will enter school and see a familiar face. If he or she can scope out the new classroom, that will also help manage back-to-school stress.
6. Talk to your child
Children with chronic pain may have a hard time at school even once the year is in full-swing, but stress can be particularly elevated in the days leading up to school’s return. Have an honest conversation with your child and encourage him or her to voice their concerns. Listen carefully and work to appease your child’s fears or alleviate them.
For instance, if your child is nervous about recess and not being able to play like the rest of the boys and girls, maybe you could work with the school to make alternate arrangements. Your child could spend recess in the library or under the close watch of an aide to ensure no bullying or other behavior occurs.
7. Plan ahead for possible problems
If your child had a rough year last year, or is coping with the health impacts of chronic pain and fears being bullied or not being able to make friends, help your child identify coping strategies. Perhaps a cell phone would be helpful so your child can reach you in case of emergency, or to talk during a bad day.
Alternatively, you could reach out to the school psychologist or nurse. Alert them about your child’s health issues if they don’t know already.
8. Focus on a sleep routine
Nothing is harder than trying to get kids to go to sleep at a proper bedtime. This is even more true when the sun is still blazing away outside their window. Start your kids with an increasingly early bedtime as summer comes to an end, and wake them up at school time daily (this will help with the early bedtime).
You can also try dark curtains or eye shades for those children who need to sleep in total darkness.
9. Maintain your own healthy habits
When life gets busy or stressful, healthy habits like eating nutritious food and exercising are often the first thing to go. However, prioritizing those activities and emphasizing self-care can go a long way to managing stress while also supporting your lifestyle goals for managing chronic pain.
Back-to-school stress might make you feel as if you have no time to spend on healthy habits. Investing the time in your wellbeing will pay dividends by helping you feel better. And this leads to getting more things accomplished. Consider:
- Cooking in bulk or in a crock pot
- Buying healthy frozen dinners
- Exercising first thing in the morning
Parents experience stress just as much as kids do during this time, much of it centered around meal times in the morning and the evening. In the evening when everyone comes home tired, cranky, and possibly starving, help yourself out by using your crockpot or cooking once to eat all week. After school snacks can also be prepared in advance. Have your kids help to make it a family affair!
10. Develop (and stick to!) a routine
Part of back-to-school stress is the fact that the household routine is completely disrupted by early bedtimes, early rising, lunches to be packed, homework to be done, and dinner to put on the table. The first few days of school can be hectic. It is likely that your child(ren) will be exhausted, excited, and possibly cranky at the end of their day until they get into the swing of things.
Make after school time as stress-free as possible by developing a routine that works for you. This can include things like:
- Snack time and some time outside (or free time inside, but avoid screens)
- Homework time (or reading) while dinner is being made
- After-dinner baths and family time
- Nighttime rituals that work for your kids (e.g., reading, talking, winding down)
If your kids are a little older, help them develop a good routine that incorporates talking about their day, homework, and free time. Limit screens during this transition, at least during the week. Part of this routine can be family movie and pizza night on Fridays, signaling the end of the week. Routines can go a long way to help kids (and parents!) ease into back to school time.
11. Practice stress management techniques
Even with advance planning and preparation, back to school time can be very stressful for kids and parents. With extreme testing requirements and increasing homework loads even for the very youngest children, kids are experiencing stress and its side effects now more than ever. Without an outlet, chronic stress can be damaging to both mental and physical health.
If you notice that your child is having trouble sleeping (or is extremely fatigued), is more emotional than usual, seems irritable, or is lashing out, they may be experiencing stress. Helping kids manage stress is one of the most valuable tools you can offer them as a parent. Simple things like allowing them free time to play, encouraging them to go outside, and limiting screen time can go a long way to alleviate stress during back to school time.
Then, make sure to apply these lessons to yourself. How can you care for yourself when back-to-school time has interrupted your schedule?
Are your kids back in school or headed back soon? How do you manage this back to school time transition?