Back to school. You would think that those words would signal a stress valve release for many parents. Not according to a U.S. study which says that working parents endure high levels of stress when it comes to getting everything ready for their child’s imminent return to school.
The poll of American workers found that the back to school season negatively affected their moods and attitudes not only on the home front, but also at work. 63% of workers surveyed reported that the stress levels of co-workers who were working parents seemed to rise and 35% expected additional financial and personal stress in their own lives.
And the trend is being reflected in Australia, with a study finding that mums feel like they are being “scrutinized” by other parents, especially when it comes to lunch box choices. The “unspoken competition” and ambiguity in terms of nutritious options for lunch boxes were causing angst in 3 out of 4 Australian mums.
Recognising the financial pressure that this time of year brings on families, several Australian charities developed programs helping lower income families save more money. However, it is not just disadvantaged children who are seeking help, with State Schools Relief, a Victorian charity increasingly seeing requests for assistance from families who have not had to do so in the past.
Organizing, planning and taking up special programs and offers especially designed to combat back to school anxiety can help. Here are some suggestions:
Address concerns: A survey by Life Education, the largest non-government health education provider in Australia revealed that bullying was the primary concern for parents as they prepared for the new school year. Encourage children to have an open line of communication with you right from the beginning of the year. Make use of resources like Healthy Harold’s Top Tips for Online Safety and the Bullying. No Way! website to educate kids and reassure them of your unwavering support.
In addition, now is the time to deal with factors that could impede on a child’s performance at school during the year. For example, ankle pain, allergies or eyesight/hearing problems can all cause distress to both children and parents throughout the school year. You can even take up free services offered at this time of the year like foot screening and hearing tests to help spot problems early.
Make plans: Whether you are going to use after-school care or have relatives picking up your kids in the afternoon, keeping all parties involved by having a written up plan will make life easier. Another time and (brain cells!) saver is a weekly meal planner including shopping for ingredients, cooking and packing.
Dean Debnam, CEO of Workplace Options, an international employee effectiveness firm highlighted a trend for employers to allow workers with school aged kids to leave early or spend time on the phone “checking in”. Talk to your employer to see if you can come up with a plan to organize your work day so you can leave early to ease the stress.
Routines: A recent study by Murdoch Children’s Research Institute found that up to 40% of children were experiencing sleep problems in the first six months of starting primary school. Researchers suggested that parents need to enforce strict bedtime routines, limit the use of media and avoid products containing caffeine or being in the child’s room when they fall asleep.
Seek help: A survey by Continental Tyres found that the morning school run is on the top of the list for the most stressful time in a mum’s day. To alleviate the daily tension, try asking for help with the school drop-offs from another family member or if you live within walking distance from your school, try alternating the morning walk to school with other parents in your neighborhood.
Some state governments also offer an advice line for parents to help them start the new school year on the right foot.