As we drop our children at their classrooms, or watch them hop on the bus, or out of our minivans, thoughts race through our minds… will they eat a healthy lunch, did we spend enough time on their homework… are they making friends.. are we budgeting/saving enough for their future education… and so on. A recent survey from Little Grad, the Saving for College company, asked parents about the things that stress them out at back to school time.
1. Time Stress. Not surprisingly, the leader of the list was having enough time in the day to attend to homework, get to activities on time, and not feel as if we were always running behind. Surprisingly, this was a top concern even amongst parents of pre-schoolers!
Tip: It’s a mixed blessing, having so many enriching activities to pick from. In your child’s early years it is tempting to want to let them try a variety to see where their gifts lie. But once the kindergarten/elementary years start, and homework happens, a family needs to reevaluate their schedules. My recommendation is one activity per week, per child.
2. Money Stress. Parents primarily think of educational expenses in reference to putting money aside to plan for college costs – as well they should – but there are a number of things that can cause financial stress. Many parents underestimate the expenses of even public schools, such as PTA dues, suggested charitable contributions, and numerous activity fees and that can leave a family’s budget strained at the end of each month.
Tip: Recognize that a child entering full time school is a change of phase of life – one that requires a sit down and re-set of a families monthly spending and priorities. If the family hasn’t put in place some sort of saving plan for college, this is a great time to get started, whether that means starting an account, increasing the monthly automatic contribution, or looking into reward programs to add more to it. Also, recognize that the school community is an ongoing part of your life. If it adds value to your family, you will want to prepare to play your part financially.
3. Health Stress. I remember the first week of pre-school when my daughter brought back her lunch, nearly untouched. I was worried she was going to faint from hunger, and that I didn’t know how to pack a proper lunch. (Then I found out they were letting her ‘charge’ hot lunches… I pulled her credit and the PBnJ lunches started to disappear!) But many times it is hard to determine the right mix of healthy foods that are easy to pack and kids will eat.
Tip: Get your child involved in the shopping and the packing of the lunches and snacks. You need your child to understand what a good balance of “go” and “slow” foods will make their bodies and minds feel strong all day long. You’ll also learn interesting facts like which snacks are the easiest to eat while swinging from monkey bars.
4. Clueless Stress. A new element of uncertainty comes into our lives when our children start making friends on their own. They talk about things their new friends do, say and believe, and you will see that you are not the leading opinion setter in your children’s lives. It is unsettling, especially as these new ideas are often different from the attitudes and beliefs you have been raising them with.
Tip: Invite these new influences into your home after school or a sleepover, or to meet somewhere neutral like a park for a play date. Get to know the parents and see what they are all about and why your kids are so drawn to them. Spending time with the friends also gives them the chance to get to know you – and to benefit from your thoughts, ideas and high spirits.
Fear not, stress less. As you enter a new phase of life, you’ll be given new chances to grow with your children. When something causes you stress, take a deep breath, and step into the unknown with humility and bravery. You made it through the diapers and the twos… you can do anything!