Managing Back to School Stress

Navigating unfamiliar hallways, meeting new teachers, adjusting to a different schedule – back to school brings a lot of changes for our kids, and also for parents.

Back to school season means pictures of moms jumping for joy and parents exhaling with relief. But no matter how happy they may be, getting kids back in the classroom can also involve a fair amount of stress for parents.

“Mom, you okay? You look a little stressed,” my daughter observed a few days ago. Admittedly, her transition to a new school and activities with busy practice schedules as well as deadlines at work did have me feeling stressed.

At first I felt a bit ashamed. I’m supposed to be on top of everything, and perfectly placid so as not to convey any anxiety to my family, right?  Actually, no.

We all feel stressed at some point and time, and our kids do, too. I want my daughter to know that it’s okay and normal to feel a bit of stress, and that there are ways to handle it. This was not a parent fail, but rather a chance to model ways to cope with stress.

  1. Breathe slowly and deeply.

Few things fuel a parent’s stress level like the out of control hormones of an adolescent. But you can fight wacky adolescent hormones with your good hormones by taking a few deep breaths. Doing so stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and signals to the body to release hormones to decrease blood pressure and heart rate, making you feel more relaxed.

I know, it sounds simple. And you’ve heard it before. But taking a few deep, slow breaths really is a good, cheap, effective way to keep the stress at bay.

  1. Engage the five senses with a self-care kit.

One activity you can do together with your child is create a self-care kit, including an item for each of the five senses that makes you feel calm and happy. Turn to it when you’re feeling stressed.  We each made playlists of some of our favorites songs. A few songs appeared on both our lists, as we both really love Hamilton. My daughter included in her kit vanilla potpourri, a stress ball you run the sole of your foot over, a photo from vacation and her favorite snack.

Given how much time we spend in the car driving to and from practices and school, I tried to incorporate some of the stress relief items there. It’s not exactly a mobile spa, but being able to listen to songs we both like that make us happy and relaxed and a potpourri ball to make it smell nice really can make the car time a little more zen. Also, having a few snacks in the glove box helps. Because feeling hangry is the opposite of zen.

  1. Head to nature.

Spending time in nature cannot only engage many of the senses, it’s a great provider of perspective. Just a 15 minute walk in the woods can do wonders for my psyche. This time of year, as hints of the changing season begin to appear, it’s a powerful reminder that very few things ever stay the same and that this, too, shall pass.

Whether that’s not knowing where to go on parent night or wondering how to get the bake sale items delivered (and I said “delivered” instead of “baked” because I bought them from the store in an effort to save time and sanity), it won’t last forever.

Note that nature doesn’t have to be the state park hours away. Forget that if fitting it into the schedule compounds your stress. Trying out a new path, park or nature center in your hometown, or the next town over, will likely do the trick.

  1. Reframe the story

We think of stress as bad, but it’s also something that comes with trying something new, stepping out of our comfort zones and expanding our horizons, and those are all good things. Growing often means experiencing a little bit of stress, and that’s okay.

  1. Sleep

The new school schedule is early and the activity practice schedule even earlier than that, with some starting at what I refer to as obscene hour of the day. I’ve had a tough time retraining myself to give up my night owl ways and get to bed earlier. It’s been tough, but it’s also tough to manage stress when you’re sleep deprived.

Getting sufficient rest is a big part of replenishing the coping skills reservoir. After all,  there’s a reason you don’t hear people declaring, “I do my best parenting/thinking/work when I’m completely exhausted.”

A note about wine: When talking about stress with moms, it seems the most discussed way to relieve stress is to reach for a glass of wine. Expressing any angst on social media usually bring suggestions of doing just that, from multiple well-meaning sources. And while there can be a time and a place for that, remember the kids really are watching. They will do as their parents do, even though they may not like to admit it. Kids need to see us parents modeling ways to manage our stress levels that they can try, too. Parents are the number one influence on a kid’s decision to drink.

Wishing you a school year full of growth and minimal stress and lots of joy for both you and your kids!

Shannan Younger, creator of Mom Factually and contributor on Tween Us at ChicagoNow.

Shannan Younger is a writer living with her husband and tween daughter in the suburbs of Chicago. She writes about parenting adventures on the blog Mom Factually and on Tween Us at ChicagoNow. She also writes at Chicago Parent and her work has been featured by the BBC, the Chicago Tribune and theFamily Online Safety Institute. Her works has also appeared on Mamapedia, The Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop, Mamalode. She was honored to have essays included in the anthologies The HerStories Project: Women Explore the Joy, Pain, and Power of Female Friendship and My Other Ex and is a proud alum of the Listen to Your Mother. She is a native of Ohio who received her undergraduate and law degrees from Notre Dame.
 *The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility ( or any member.*