Back to School... with mindfulness!
Going back to school can be a real stress trigger for kids. The average middle school- and high school-age teen stresses about everything from bullying and social expectations to academic pressure. And studies show that this chronic stress can have major impacts on the development of kids' brains and might put them at greater risk of developing mental health and mood disorders.
Having a summer break can give students a welcome vacation from some of these stressors—which is why they can suffer from anticipatory anxiety when back-to-school preparations begin. Teaching teens and preteens how to manage stress while approaching new beginnings and transitions mindfully can help. Below are the types of tips I offer in my new book Zen Teen, all of which should make this fall more meaningful, more enjoyable, and less stressful for the kids in your life:
1. Encourage them to set intentions for the new school year.
This reminds your children that, while there will be some unknowns and variables coming up, there will also be aspects of the experience they can control and co-create. Intentions help them get clear on what they want: better grades, new friends, a fun hobby, or experiencing less stress and anxiety. Assist the kids in your life—whether they are your children, your students, your nieces and nephews, or your younger siblings—with picking a few intentions. Then, if they're up for it, build a ritual around setting these intentions with the new moon, a candle ceremony, sage, or creating a nature altar.
2. Talk through their fears and concerns ahead of time.
I once volunteered to read for NYC schoolkids on their lunch breaks, and one sweet, funny girl getting ready to enter middle school was terrified of bullies. She had never been bullied before but had heard she would encounter some in middle school. We talked in very practical terms about what to do and not do if she found herself being bullied, and she felt more relieved, empowered, and prepared afterward.
3. Find a way to boost their confidence.
Get two pieces of paper and sit down for a journaling exercise. Tell your child to write down their favorite things about themselves while you also jot down your favorite things about them. When you are both finished, read your lists to each other...and be sure to laugh when appropriate! Humor is a great stress reliever.
4. Reflect on what they liked most about their summers.
If your child says they loved the freedom of summer, or the extra downtime, or getting to hang more with their families on vacations or staycations, brainstorm ways that teens can still enjoy some of these things associated with summer throughout the year. This teaches them to periodically reflect and take an inventory of their life.
5. Ask them how they want to feel this year.
It can be powerful to get clear on what emotions we most want to experience. Then you can reverse engineer things and discover what activities, attitudes, or people typically inspire these feelings. This will make kids more aware of their feelings so they can better manage and navigate them. Teens might decide that they want to feel more happy, inspired, silly, motivated, excited, or calm this school year.
6. Discover what about the last school year they do not want to repeat.
Reflect on the last school year. If grades were slipping, fighting broke out among siblings, someone was talking too much during class, your child felt lost, or they were suffering from depression, help them get clear on what they don't want for this new school year. Brainstorm some solutions or find the deeper reason behind self-sabotaging patterns. This teaches them to look closely at things that are not working in their lives in order to improve those areas, as opposed to ignoring what's wrong or escaping into wishful thinking.
7. Remind them of the power of a fresh start.
Starting a new school year is a chance to push the reset button. Taking a break from anything means you naturally cleanse your palate and gain perspective on a situation. Explain that fresh starts have a magical energy that really gives them a chance to do things differently, think about things differently, and even be viewed differently by their peers.
8. Let them know you are there to listen and support them, no matter what.
Remind teens and preteens that you are an authority figure—but also a friend. Assure them that when a challenge arises during the school year—whether it's a teacher they don't get along with or a good friend giving them the cold shoulder or a physical illness or injury they suffer—you will have their back, even when they make a mistake or poor choice. This will help them feel safer and more grounded going into a new school year.
These parenting timesavers will give you some peace of mind for the back-to-school season, too.