It is back-to-school time in the United States, which for many is bittersweet. The bitter part is for saying goodbye to carefree, unscheduled summer days. The sweet part is saying hello to a new school year and school friends.
This exciting time is filled with smells of new books, paper and pencils. Children might dress in a new set of clothes and wear new shoes. And of course there are the first-day-of-school pictures that parents share with family and friends.
However, going back to school can also be a stressful time for children and families. Everyone must make the transition from easy summer life to routines, schedules and homework.
Families might also stress about spending extra money for a new school year. Parents often need to pay school fees or to buy new school clothes, sports equipment, musical instruments and school supplies. When parents are stressed, children feel the tension.
Back-to-school stress is different for different ages. Younger children may feel scared to leave their families. Making new friends and dealing with bullying can also cause stress for students. Older students may stress about their appearance, grades and getting into college.
With teenagers in the United States, stress is a serious and growing problem. A 2013 survey by the American Psychological Association found that teens in the U.S. are now as stressed as adults.
A high percentage of the teens surveyed say they are stressed about:
getting into a good college or deciding what to do after high school (69%)
and financial concerns for their family (65%)
Two years ago, Danielle Lanteri began going to high school. It is a private Catholic school that she attends on a scholarship. She said the demands of the scholarship keep her very busy and stressed.
“What stresses me out most at this point in my life will have to be the amount of work that I get from my teachers and the expectation that I am supposed to, that I have."
"With my scholarship for high school, I’m expected to be on a sport, participate in clubs, get an above 100 average in all my classes."
"And I feel that it’s a little impossible. Very few people end up keeping this scholarship because it’s just too hard to do everything.”
However, parents, teachers and children can also help to make the transition back to school easier.
Lori Bambina has been a teacher for over 20 years. She currently teaches first grade in Brooklyn, New York at Public School 229. Her students are 5- and 6-years-old.
Routines and knowing what to expect, or predictability, help to reduce stress in children, says Ms. Bambina. So, she focuses on the class routine during the start of the new school year.
“Well, for the students, I have my classroom set up with a very clear system. So, I will introduce the system. Then I will revisit the system because at this young age they enjoy structure and predictability."
"And that routine is very comforting and will not cause them stress if they know exactly where things are located and what type of behavior is expected of them. So, that really reduces the stress and the anxiety because they have their own comfort level now.”
Whether you are in first grade or 10th grade, knowing the teachers and what they expect is a good way to reduce stress.
At her new high school, Danielle did not know her teachers. She did not know the best way to build relationships with them. Also, the teachers did not know her learning style. All of these unknowns caused Danielle a lot of stress.
“It was the not knowing the teachers. They didn’t know me; so they don't know how I work. That stressed me out. I didn’t know what type of relationship I should have with my teacher."
"And to cut down the stress, I will email my teachers if I have a problem and try to, like, get to know them better.”
Knowing what a teacher wants in the classroom is a good way to cut down on stress. But there are things you can do in the home, too.
Mary Anne Aidala began teaching in the New York school system in 1962. She retired 39 years later, in 2001. She is an award-winning teacher and is also the mother of Lori Bambina, the teacher we heard from earlier.
Ms. Aidala advises parents to focus on the basics -- get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, and turn off electronics before bedtime.
“Well, the first thing they have to do is to get them on a schedule of sleep habits. And they should also make sure they have a good breakfast to keep their brains alert."
"And maybe before they go to sleep every night they should start to read them a story or do something educational; so, they can start to reactivate their brains into using them.”
The American Psychological Association makes the same suggestions on its website. They add that getting organized is also very important -- for parents, children and teachers.
For example, parents should keep their wallets and car keys in the same place. This way they do not have to look for them during a busy morning.