Reduce school stress

by Barbara Neiman
September 08, 2011 03:35 PM | 0 0 comments | 1038 1038 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The change of routine felt by both parents and kids as the school year begins can be a major distraction that increases stress for everyone. It’s only normal for excited youngsters to anticipate change. Whether their expectations are met or disappointed, their stress levels are likely to rise. Wanting or needing new clothes, electronic gadgets and sports gear is just the beginning. All the socializing brings other pressures.

How can you best support your kids?

In the area of food, good nutritional snacks available to curb excess weight gain such as fruits, protein bars, soups, apples and products with less sugar content are helpful. Within reason, try to reduce the amount of white-flour and white-sugar products. Processed foods and high-fat items around the house tend to make kids more tired, increase their moodiness and irritability, and impact digestion, causing stomach aches and headaches. Improving diet will help kids avoid waking up in the morning with bloated stomachs and foggy brains from too much junk food late at night.

Apple season in the Hudson Valley brings opportunities for kids to smell, touch and taste local fruits they pick themselves. Check local listings for apple orchards near you. Outdoor markets where families can talk to farmers and sample items can help kids develop a more personal relationship to food.

Each community has its own unique assets. I am from New Paltz, where Karma Road offers first-timers who want to sample vegetarian food a six-dollar “affordable bowl” of rice, beans and vegetables. On September 18, the Taste of New Paltz will offer its annual sampling of the range of local restaurant fare.

Keep the kids hydrated with water. Fruit juice can be very high in sugar as well, so water is the preferred drink. Eliminate soda (even diet) which make you thirstier and adds weight. Encourage fruit smoothies, peanut butter or almond butter on celery, apples or bread, avocadoes, veggies, nuts, yogurt, oatmeal or leftovers that have veggies in them. Discourage the processed foods and high-fat and sugary items. For meals, several vegetarian entrées a week can assist fitness, minimize weight gain, and reduce your budget.

Keep a calendar for everyone in your family to see. Get everyone’s schedule out in the open. Check in for a few minutes every day about schedules, upcoming events, projects or tests either in person (best), phone or text. Learning to look at the week as a whole and the month instead of only one day at a time will help your child reduce the number of surprises and encourage kids to organize.

It helps to not overschedule yourself and your children. Support the family to get adequate sleep. Overscheduling can cause lose of sleep, which causes stress and anxiety for parents and children. A well-rested child will perform better on everything. Find a family yoga class where you can all enjoy exercise, chill out for an hour away from the electronic media, and get a relaxing workout. For children, keeping up a good physical activity and easing their way into homework from playtime without going cold turkey is supportive to kids’ brains.

Reducing the amount of TV will improve attention span. Set specific times for the TV and the bedroom computer, and ban them if necessary. Help the younger child or teen understand that the homework needs to get done. If needed, set up the kitchen or dining room as the place to do homework.

Letting children have down time after school for creative ventures, whether an art project, a physical activity, walking outside or playing in the yard, or going to dance class. Allow the young brains to relax and rejuvenate in a way that will better support the skills needed later for studying and learning.

For family cultural outing that support creativity and give a break from electronic media, don’t miss the live musical theatre productions at John A. Coleman twice a year around Thanksgiving and the spring. Attending school musicals band and choir events is a relaxing and social outing supporting the arts. For music experience, Unison Arts Center in New Paltz offers childrens programming all year. For art activities in New Paltz, check out “Simply Create,” a center for children that supports the arts, music and has classes and after-school activities.

Encourage outside playtime for all ages. It’s important to continue outside activities as a family. Walks in the Catskills forest preserve, rock scrambling in the Mohonk Preserve in New Paltz or tossing a ball around at Cantine Field in Saugerties can give teens the physical and sensory outing that feeds their muscles and brains.

Teens need to jump in quite quickly to the academic rigor and performance. Talk to them about reducing their media and screen time until homework is finished. Evaluate how much time is being spent on social media. Make the distinction between computer time that is academic and that which is just social networking. Sometimes a new physical space for teens need to be chosen or created that is less isolated.

Setting priorities with your teen can take some discussion. Setting up family time with a fun event for the weekend can be a relaxed approach to encouraging conversation. Get down to work during the week on planning some special event with friends. Let your teen know that you understand there is a need to get organized to navigate the fast pace of high school.

Ask how you can be supportive. Does the teen need to prepare in advance? Teach strategies for time management and organizational skills. Do they need flashcards, highlighters, or for a parent to help review? If homework is missed or test scores low, it is helpful to consult classroom teachers. Often the teen doesn’t know what type of support is needed or what the problem is, but feels overwhelmed and may be in denial. Establish priorities. Set firm limits.

Social issues impact every family member. Parents often find having other parents to chat with and exchange experiences with helpful.

Schools at all levels bring their own social stressors. Supporting your child’s interests in the arts, sports or other areas and allowing the child to unfold in his or her way can be the most natural approach. Parents need to be on the alert for cyber-bullying. A child can be either the target or the perpetrator. Parents of Facebookers can request that kids “friend the parent,” so they can check in on social-media sites. In New Paltz, a group for teen girls called “It’s a Girl Thing” addresses teen issues. Sometimes interventions are helpful or needed.

Family meetings are important in managing stress. Spending time together in nature, eating calmly together, using a specific spiritual ritual or practice, or just hanging out together on the porch are all instrumental ways to allow a sense of calm to emerge for your children. If we are always overscheduled or always texting, there is little chance to communicate or even to think. There is no chance to learn to listen.

When pivotal decisions need to be made, it is helpful to become quiet. This will help kids navigate through the year with less stress.++

Barbara Neiman, an integrative occupational therapist in private practice, specializes in sensory processing issues. She is teaching two courses at SUNY Ulster adult education this fall on attention and organizational skills, and teaches meditation and yoga classes for adults and children. She can be contacted at or 796-6460. Her website is

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