Reducing School Stress

Whether your child is starting school for the first time, changing schools, or returning after a long school holiday break, the first few weeks of the school term can be a stressful experience for many children and parents.  This is particularly true for children who experience difficulties with change or separating from mum and dad.  There are some simple things you can do to help reduce the stress experienced at this time, so you can enjoy all the positives about embarking on a new school year.

Preparation is key:

Fear of the unknown can often contribute to stress.  Increase the predictability for children and prepare them for upcoming events:

  • Social stories can prepare children for a change, reinforce expected behaviours, or explain something new.  Social stories should include descriptives (who, what, where and why), outline what is the appropriate response for the situation, describe the possible feelings of the child, emphasise the important point (e.g. a rule), and how the child can get help (and from whom).  They are written in the first person (from the child’s perspective) and often include pictures.  When creating a social story for school, try to use photo’s of the school and their teacher. There are some wonderful examples of social stories on the internet.
  • Create a ‘Who’s in My Team’ poster for your child.  Use pictures if possible so your child knows who they can go to if they need help when mum or dad aren’t available.

Organisation and Routine:

Organisation can reduce household stress. When you can’t find socks, the permission note or the library bag, time can easily slip away.  As the children are rushed into the car to make it to school on time, stress levels often hit their peak levels, making school drop offs challenging. Organisation and routine can help:

  • Establish consistent bedtime and waking routines.
  • Morning and afternoon visual schedules help children of all ages (and parents) to stay on task.  For older children, include the time tasks should be completed by, and place the visual next to a digital clock so they have a reference point.
  • A place for everything, and everything in it’s place! Where do notes, lunch boxes, shoes, school uniforms etc go? If possible, set up a document box to place all notes when they come home.  Keep back packs, library bags, shoes etc in one place (near the front door is a great place).
  • Get out the school clothes and make lunches the night before (and don’t forget to find the socks!).
  • Make sure study stations are organised, in a quiet place and the chair and table are at an appropriate height.  A timer can help the child know how long they need to work on the task.

Calming strategies:

Introducing calming strategies into the morning and afternoon routines can reduce feelings of stress. Remember, prevention is often better than a cure:

  • Bubble Mountain – Place a small amount of water and a little dishwashing liquid into a cup, bowl or container. Using a straw, blow as hard and long as you can, blowing all of your worries out of your body. See how big you can make Bubble Mountain! Do this every morning before leaving the house, when you get home from school, or before a change. This also encourages deep breathing (in through the nose and out through the mouth) in a fun and meaningful way.
  • Introduce a variety of calming strategies for the car ride to and from school. Try weighted items (weighted lap mat), a box of stress balls/fidgets, and head phones with favourite music (ideally with a slow tempo, nothing too racey) or children may even prefer noise cancelling headphones to block out any noise.
  • Provide a ‘chill out zone’.  Some children need some ‘down time’ before they are ready to answer questions about school.  A quite place like a tent or cubby filled with some favourite things can help to reduce sensory input and stress when your child gets home from school.
Children are able to engage in learning better when they are calm and relaxed

There are many things that can contribute to a child feeling stressed about school. If you would like more information about occupational therapy and how we can assist your child, please contact Empowered Kids or visit our online store for product ideas.