How You Can Ease the Stress of the Back-to-School Schedule
Adjusting to early mornings, packing lunches, homework, activities and bedtimes can be challenging.
It’s the end of August (already!?), and school has already started in many districts, with Pittsburgh Public Schools heading back on Monday.
As that reality sets in, my anxiety level begins to increase. And I thought it couldn’t get any higher!
Families are buying binders, folders, notebooks, pencils and the other tools their children need to succeed.
But what tools do parents and the family as a whole need to remain sane throughout this hectic time of the year?
“It’s important that parents and caregivers encourage children and adolescents to maintain open lines of communication to discuss any worries or fears they may have related to going back to school,” said Anthony Mannarino, child and adolescent psychologist and chair of the Allegheny Health Network Psychiatry and Behavioral Health Institute. “Creating a safe and supportive environment at home can greatly contribute to your child’s positive mental health as they navigate the challenges of a new school year.”
Mannarino and Dr. Joseph Aracri, chair of pediatrics with AHN Pediatric Institute, advise establishing consistent sleep schedules, encouraging involvement in extracurriculars, limiting screen time for everyone in the household and practicing your upcoming routines to familiarize your children with what to expect when school starts.
Pittsburgh Magazine contributor Brea Schmidt is a Pittsburgh-based writer, speaker and photographer who connects women and mothers by creating a safe space for them and open conversation.
Founder of The Thinking Branch, Schmidt knows firsthand just how crazy a school year can get.
“The first word that comes to mind – as a family with two working parents and three kids who are all active – is systems,” she says. “My husband and I sit down every Sunday to decide who is responsible for the morning routine, the after-school routine and who’s driving who to this place or practice.”
Schmidt says this weekly routine is a lifesaver.
“We can very easily fall into the trap of never checking in with each other because we are always on the go. I always make sure we are prioritizing family time so we aren’t solely communicating about logistics,” she says.
The Schmidts also have a pinch hitter in their oldest daughter who is quite the organizer.
“She gets excited for our Sunday planning because once we determine the schedule, she will take my calendar and create a kid calendar. She also shows the lunch menu to her brother and sister, and writes on the calendar who is packing and who is buying lunch on a particular day. This gives her responsibility, but it also helps all of our kids to be more organized.”
On days one or more of her children pack a lunch, Schmidt finds it easier to pack them that morning, but finds it helpful to have sides, such as fruits, veggies and chips, ready to go to save time.
The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health offers tips on packing lunches here.
Schmidt admits chaos can erupt on any day without warning.
“We have days where everyone is screaming because someone lost a sock, and someone else lost a folder,” she laughs. “There are days we absolutely fall apart, but this system really helps us to have less of those days.”
Schmidt also stresses the importance of a self-care routine for parents, noting the notion of self-care can feel elusive when parents are looking at their work and kids’ schedules thinking, “How am I supposed to make time for myself?”
“It’s really important to know that if we are going to take this much time to make sure we have everything together for our kids, we need to make sure that we show up for them in the best way we can; we can’t pour from an empty cup.”
To help combat stigmas surrounding mental health and equip young children with the techniques needed to identify their feelings and create their emotional vocabularies, AHN recently launched a children’s YouTube series focused on behavioral health called Cai & Kate.
Take a deep breath. You got this!