The back to school season can be stressful during the best of years. There’s more on everyone’s plate between pickups and drop-offs, homework, and parents trying to manage their own work schedules. This year comes with some unique challenges. Here are four ways to mitigate stress this school year:

  1. Create a Routine

There is still some uncertainty about which children will be returning to school and which will be learning from home. Having a game plan for each possibility will make you and your child feel more prepared and relaxed. 

Children who are learning from home will need to know when you want them to focus on school and when they are free to do other things. They will also need designated times during their school day for meals and active breaks. Try writing down a schedule and discussing it with your child so they will know what the expectations are this school year. Remember to schedule social time, since they won’t be seeing their friends at school. 

You may also need to talk to them about how their learning will fit in with your need to provide. Let them know when you will be available to help them with school work and when you will be focusing on getting your own job done. 

Even kids who are headed back to school might have a different schedule this year than usual. Talk to them about how your schedule at home will change as a result, and be ready to adjust as the school year progresses. If your child does not have access to PE or sports at school this year, they may need extra time set aside after school for physical activity. 

2. Make Time for Fun

It’s easy to get into a rut after school starts. For parents who are struggling to get their child to cooperate with online learning, every day might feel like a battle. Making time for family fun and relaxation is essential for everyone’s mental health. 

Pick an activity that your family enjoys and schedule it into your lives. It could be a Friday movie night, time in the park on Saturday, or just a pizza night during the week. All that matters is that you get to spend quality time away from the stresses of work and school. Eating dinner together as often as possible can also help you come together as a family and reduce stress. 

You might feel like your child’s phone or tablet has become permanently attached to their body. Between online schooling and their virtual social life, many kids will be spending more than the recommended maximum of 2 hours a day looking at a screen. Try to come up with offscreen activities for your kids to enjoy during their downtime.

 Playing outside is always a winner, but if the weather doesn’t allow that, make other options available. These could include coloring books or other artistic activities, scavenger hunts around the house, or games like hide- and- seek. A quick google search can give you more ideas. Active play will help your kids develop the creative and problem-solving parts of their brains and keep them busy while you work. It’s a win-win!

3.Put Health First

You probably feel like you’ve been doing this all year, but health goes beyond handwashing and mask-wearing. Sleep, healthy meals, and purposeful relaxation are also crucial for a healthy mind and body. These things can suffer when life gets hectic, so you might have to make an extra effort to prioritize them after school starts. 

Good sleep hygiene is important for you and your kids. Teach them to take a break from screens for an hour before bed, sleep in a cool dark room, and go to bed at the same time every night. Then model those behaviors for them. Kids learn better when they get their eight hours, and you will feel better too. 

During the quarantine, many people have been having fun making meals at home. You might have to try easier meals after school starts, but make sure to include fruits, veggies, and protein in your daily cooking. Encourage your kids to try new healthy foods more than once to get their taste buds used to them, and model healthy eating yourself. 

Feeling well-rested and well-nourished will reduce your physiological stress and make it easier for you to deal with whatever comes your way, but purposeful relaxation is also essential. This means taking time to recognize when you are stressed and work on reducing your stress levels. If you aren’t good at recognizing and coping with your own stress, now is a great time to improve. Try to notice when you feel slightly stressed and do an activity that makes you feel better before the stress becomes overwhelming. Relaxing activities might include a favorite hobby, exercise, meditation, yoga, or reading. Once you get the hang of this, teach it to your kids. Talk to them about their stresses and fears and help them figure out what activities reduce their stress. Remember that as a parent, giving your kids extra love and attention during stressful times can help them feel safe. 

4. Adjust as Needed

This year has been a crash course in adaptability. Do I shop at the store next week or order my groceries? What can I use in a cake instead of flour? How do I work out when the gyms are closed?

 We’ve all had to make adjustments to our lives this year, and that fast-paced change probably isn’t over yet. Your kids might start out learning at home and go back to school in a few months or vice versa. You might try one routine for a couple of weeks and find that it needs some tweaking. Remember that we are all learning together, and nothing is written in stone. Be prepared to keep finding workarounds and changing your habits. The expectation of change and the affirmation that you can be adaptable and deal with whatever comes will go a long way towards reducing stress this year.