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Back to school - managing the stress of transitions and expectations

Updated: Sep 10, 2022

September. The month that signals transition. The air takes on a different smell as leaves start to fall, and the memories of children laughing and sunshine give way to shopping for school shoes, pencils and last minute sock replacements.

For many young people the transition back to school is accompanied by mixed feelings; An initial excitement to reconnect with friends, accompanied with the dread of dark cold days and homework.

For others though, September can mark the start of a school year where important milestones will be reached: the start of year 10 and the beginning of the GCSE course, where there is a shift in teachers expectations and demands; the start of year 11, where the prospect of mock exams will likely rob your child of a sense of relaxation over the Christmas and Hanukah break from school. Or the beginning and middle of sixth form, where the school system invites your child much more into the adulthood space that they will need to transition in the next few years of their lives.

You may find yourself worrying for your child, and perhaps feeling an expectation of your role as a parent; to make sure that they get their homework done; that they spend the 'right' amount of time revising, that they enter this year with commitment to their studies. I don't know about you, but i've been faced with all of these thoughts as a parent myself: 'What if they don't reach their potential?' 'What if i could do something now / have done something more to ensure that they get the grades they need to secure a good future' The pressure we put on ourselves as parents, can often then become the pressure we silently place on our children.

Here's what i know :

  1. Young people already feel this pressure at school: Conversations around futures, A-levels, results and effort will already be coming from the teaching staff (interestingly because they are all under the same pressures to perform as well)

  2. I have not met one young person who isn't actively thinking about what they will do with their lives when they reach adulthood (even if they look like they don't care)

  3. External motivation (bribes and rewards) will only get you so far and don't sustain motivation for the long run (and a two year course is a long time)

  4. If a young person is not engaging in their studies, it's not because they are lazy and don't care; it's that they care too much, have difficulty with self-belief, find the work anxiety provoking or Psychologically challenging, and therefore procrastinate or avoid.

Tips to help create supportive practices that will help your child (and you) manage the stress

  1. Maintain your own self-awareness. If your worry for your child's performance is based on what it will mean about you if they don't achieve good grades, or what it will mean about the sacrifices you have made, do some work with that. Learning to accept that our children are their own selves, and their journey belongs to them, is a key part in being able to support rather than add pressure. You may be in a social situation where you feel under the pressure of comparison to others based on how your child performs. Remember: that is a reflection of others' insecurities about their own inadequacies. not yours. and certainly not your child's. Remember that a lot of the world's brightest minds hated and didn't engage in their school or college systems. It is not the marker for the future of your child.

  2. Start the year with a family (no matter how small) conversation around goals for the next year. These goals should include every area of your life: connection time with family and friends, work and school, holidays or downtime, and what you want to do for others (this one is an often forgotten key to happiness)

  3. Collaborate on the practices and approaches that will help you all achieve your goals for the forthcoming year. Try and enable or be curious with your child to understand what they need from you, and vice versa.

  4. Jointly agree on the markers that you will all see if you are 'falling off' good practices: For you it might be staying up too late and having less sleep that leaves you more tired and stressed For them, it might be procrastination or lowering of mood. Agree on how you will raise this together and help each other.

  5. Remember - it doesn't matter how many times these practices slip. What matters is the conscious awareness and trying to bring them back in.

  6. Put these practices and goals up somewhere where everyone can see them. Check in on them before the start of each new term, and tweak them if they aren't working for you.


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