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Managing back to school anxiety for the whole family!

Written by Lenore Pranzo

Yes it is that time of year again, back to school!  It always brings that Staples commercial to mind ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year’.  However it may not be for the kids and sometimes not for the parents either.  If you are already stressed and your kids are too, then read on.  If not, go put on some music and keep dancing around the house until the bus drops the kids home.  Otherwise to deal with the stress you can help your child and you identify where the anxiety is coming from, then you can work on strategies together for the school year and beyond.

How can you identify what the anxiety stems from?  First ask your child these questions:

  • Is it academic or social?
  • If it is academic, is there a specific subject?
  • If social, can you identify the situations you are most worried about?
  • Is there something else that you might be worried about?

Now that it is identified, state that one way to help with worrying about it is to work on new approaches.

  • How have you handled this in the past?
  • Did that work?
  • Was anyone helpful to you?
  • If so, can they continue to be helpful?
  • If not, can you think of anyone that can help?
  • For instance if you did x what do you think would happen?
  • What do you think would happen if you didn’t do what you normally do?

Tell them that if their new approach doesn’t work it is ok and it can continue to change.  These skills at helping working through problems, without you as the parent, coming up with the answers will help them enormously.  They will be more prepared for things and they will understand the learning process.

Now if your anxiety is starting to peak as well, you also need to identify where it stems from.  Is it about remembering your childhood anxiety?  Is it worry about your child’s academics and performing?  Is this worry about their performance based on realistic expectations?  Meaning is it super important that your child excel in one subject when they truly have more of an aptitude for other ones?  Are you comparing your family to other families and setting everyone up for too much stress?  Does your child need to play three sports and an instrument?  Just keep asking yourself what you want your child to gain from childhood.  Remember my blog on scaling back in an overscheduled world?  If not take a look back to last fall’s blogs where my article helps us remind ourselves to keep evaluating our schedules year after year.

If leading a calmer life is your goal for you and your family you might want to try yoga or meditation together.  Either find family yoga classes or research some DVDs that are good for all ages.  The meditation is something you can do by just putting on relaxing music and helping your child with their breath.  They don’t need much time and 5 minutes could be perfect for great results.  After they have practiced it remind them to use it during stressful or high anxiety situations.  I hope that this article was helpful.  If you have any questions, you can email me at reddingcounseling@hotmail.com or call 203.274.0158.

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Keeping it simple in the life of overscheduling

A month into the new school year is a good time to feel settled in and back in the groove. However it can also be a time that you realized maybe, just maybe there are too many darn things to do! There’s soccer, karate, dance, gymnastics, football, music, and many other things to fill in every free moment. When does homework get done or a little family time? For those with preschoolers, maybe it is also too many playdates or storytimes. How does this happen so fast? It could be that we live in Fairfield County and sometimes we are valued by what we do or accomplish and not on our quality time. If this is sounding familiar now is the time to review the values and the lasting memories you want for your family.

It is a challenge raising responsible children versus overstressed children. It is important that children grow up to be responsible for their actions, work and behavior within reasonable limits. Think about how you grew up; what worked and what would you have changed about the choices you were given? Would you have liked to spend more time with your parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents? Would you have liked more activities? Were the activities you participated in ones that you wanted to do or your parents wanted you to do? Too many, none? How did it help your self-esteem and sense of belonging? What kind of family life do you want for your children? What combination of scheduled family time like game night, movie night, meals together? What rituals and traditions? How about out of the house activities? Does it always have to be sports or how about interests like the library, chess club or the arts? How do you balance everything and avoid running around from one thing to the next, barely able to eat dinner, going to sleep late and scarcely squeezing in homework?

Now it is time to plan. Take the time to streamline all of the activities in your family’s life and continue to check in with your children to see how stressful their schedule may be. How do you streamline all of the activities? Start with the answers to the above questions. Ask yourself and your family when they are the most happy. Then ask on a scale of 1-10 how happy each activity makes them. Are there outside expectations or pressure in doing an activity? What can wait for the summer when there is more time? Is one activity a season better? Check in with each member once a month to see how the new plan is working. Just working together to prioritize activities tells your children that you are more interested in what makes them happy rather than just “doing things”. As they review their schedule each month they will become more aware of how activities affect them. When they get older you may expand the criteria for an activity from “makes me happy” to “I enjoy being with others”, “makes me proud”, “I feel like part of a team”, “I feel healthy” or other things they value.

Remember what works for one year will need to be reevaluated the next. One child might be able to handle and thrive on many activities while another might not want more than one. Continue to discuss with your children and help them prioritize. Most importantly remember to schedule and find time for family. Family dinners are perfect for communicating about the day. Family movie nights with DVDs and popcorn go a long way as well. Remember do you want a Webster definition of family; a group of individuals living under one roof, or do you want a group of individuals who spend time together and have great memories of that time?

Lenore Pranzo, MA, LMFT is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Redding, CT with a private practice in her home and is a mother of 4 year old twin boys. She works with couples, teens, groups and individuals on issues including substance abuse, fertility, anxiety, depression, marital strain, and stress management.