24/7: A Resource For Working Parents
Back to school transition 2020
The back-to- school transition is always an important one for working parents and families. But this year’s return to classes, amid the safety questions and uncertainties related to the Covid-19 pandemic, will be like no other in recent memory. The specific concerns and decisions facing individual families across the nation will vary depending on numerous factors. But one factor all parents will be dealing with is the extra stress of uncertainty. The Psychology Foundation of Canada has been at the forefront of efforts to acknowledge and address the stress of children and families for over 20 years. Here are some words of advice and strategies developed by experts on how to manage the stress of this year’s transition to school.
Learn to accept uncertainty and be prepared to learn and adjust as the year progresses
Challenging situations feel less stressful when we think that we understand what is going on. That helps us prepare and figure out what we can do to make a situation less stressful. Right now we cannot possibly understand all the implications of this year’s return to school this fall. While it is a good idea to be well-informed, recognize the possibility that trying to eliminate uncertainty may actually be stressful. We are all going to learn and adjust as we go along and that is just the way things are right now for communities world-wide.
Problem-solving won’t always be the answer
Another of our go-to ways of managing stress is to solve the problem that is causing the stress. Solve the problem and our stress goes away. Right? Not so much in this case. While there are decisions and actions you will need to take, parents cannot solve all the problems related to re-schooling children in the midst of a pandemic. This fall it may be more helpful to focus on coping with, and recovering from the stressors we are unable to avoid.
Try to decrease your stress
When we are overstressed, some of our responses to stress can actually increase our stress in the long run. So, in a quiet moment, reflect on what you are doing in response to stress. Might any of them be increasing your stress in the long term? How do you come across to your loved ones?
Be mindful of how you think about stressors
The stressors that bother us are, almost by definition, negative. But when we dwell excessively on negative thoughts about the stressor we can get into a pessimistic loop that feeds our bad feelings, and interfere with our communication with others. Changing the way you think about a stressor involves learning to:
• accept and adapt to stress you can’t change, without giving up
• recognize when negative thoughts are increasing our feelings of stress
• challenge our negative thoughts, so we can think about stressors in less negative and more flexible ways
• plan small steps for self-care
• remind yourself of your blessings amidst the daily challenges
Try not to add to the stress of others
Let us keep in mind that everyone else is experiencing extra stress these days, especially front-line workers in schools. You can be sure your child’s teacher and principal are doing their best to handle a lot of pressure, new demands, and new worries. When communicating with educators, remember that your partnership will help your child’s transition back to school.
Help your kids cope
Most parents do this instinctively. But there is more to it than just getting kids to act bravely, or trying to explain things in ways that ease their worries. It is important to give kids constructive ways to “reset” into a more relaxed and happy state. Play is one of the best coping mechanisms for children (and not just electronic play). Kids need unstructured, active, and outdoor play. Play with them age appropriate family games. Recreational activities are good for you, too, and help you stay connected with your children.
Be a role model
Given the unknowns of the current situation, it is natural for parents to have some worries about sending their kids off to school. However, whether you choose in-school or at-home learning, it is important to model confidence and optimism to your children. Kids pick up on and pay attention to parents’ facial expressions and non-verbal cues. Our anxiety can affect them, but so too can our confidence and courage.
Keep doing things you enjoy
One of the most important ways to manage the negative impacts of stress is to do enjoyable, healthy things that make us feel good. Coping with stress requires energy. Doing things we enjoy, even in small steps, helps us get back into a positive frame of mind and replenishes the energy we use in coping with stress.
Practice a stress-busting lifestyle
Lifestyle habits like getting enough rest, physical activity, good nutrition and social contacts bolster our ability to manage stress.
Reach out for support
Getting (and giving!) social support from others is an important strategy for relieving stress. In fact, our brains are wired for this coping strategy. But some kinds of social contact can add to our stress. Focus in getting support, in safe ways, from people who understand and care about you and can help you feel hopeful and more calm.
Most important of all: the parent-child connection
Positive daily relationship with a parent is one of a child’s best buffers against stress. So with everything else you have to attend to this fall, be sure to do things to stay connected with your kids in order to help them strengthen their resiliency.
The Psychology Foundation of Canada has many free online stress resources including: