When Back to School Means Back to Stress

Back to school meant back-to-stress for me. In elementary school, I stressed about what teacher I’d get. In junior high, I worried about whether I’d have friends in my classes, who I’d eat lunch with, and how my Aqua-Netted hair could possibly stay in place despite the Houston humidity… and gravity itself. In high school, I stressed about getting to class on time because of all the buildings and the required restroom break to fix my sky-high hair. (Big hair was a theme people).

Maybe your child is stressed out about going back to school too.

Maybe your child is starting a new school. Maybe she’s an over-achiever who’s carrying the weight of being perfect, doing life perfectly, and curating the perfect social media feed. Maybe he’s nervous about balancing All The Things with excellence.

Back-to-school stress for kids is real y’all.

I’m no expert, counselor, or psychologist. I am a mom to two girls who are nervous about school starting.

Look at that big hair y’all!

We’re going to look to Moses as we help our kids navigate back-to-school stress.

Jill, did you just compare my child’s back-to-school stress with Moses leading two million people out of the desert?

Yes, yes I did.

Just like Moses, our kids’ stress is real.

Moses had real concerns: a tyrant calling the shots, the daunting task of leading two million people, and a speech impediment.

Our kids have real stress too. Stress that seems just as real as parting the Red Sea. The American Psychological Association released a 2014 study that says that the stress level of students is equal to that of adults. Our kids worry about managing AP classes, club sports, and social media feedback. They worry about switching classes, having a friend to eat lunch with, and making good grades.

So what’s a try-hard mom to do?

Remember that God meets our struggles head on. In every encounter with Moses, God doesn’t dimiss, belittle, or minimize his feelings and anxiety. God got mad after the fifth excuse, but God never made Moses feel small. (Exodus 3–4) God does the same with us.

Practical steps to handle back-to-school stress:

1. Listen. Listen. Listen.
2. Don’t belittle your child’s feelings by saying “It’ll all be fine” or “I survived and so will you.”
3. Give them emotional vocabularly to avoid the hyperbolic descriptions of school, i.e. “Today was a disaster” or “I’m an idiot.” We keep this feelings chart in our car. (The FCC requires that I tell you that I’m an Amazon Affiliate, which means I earn a bit of commission on each sale. But don’t worry there’s no added cost to you!)
4. Listen to this podcast about stress and your child (episode 45).
5. Pray with them and over them.
6. Seek out professional help when necessary.

Just like Moses, our kids struggle with their identity.

Moses wondered who he was to lead people, to talk to Pharoah, to liberate millions. He asked God directly “Who am I?” Moses felt unworthy.

Our kids wonder if they’re worthy too: Are they pretty/cute enough? Skinny/strong enough? Popular enough? Smart enough? Funny enough?

So what’s a try-hard mom to do?

Remember that God tells us just like He told Moses that He would be with us. (Ex. 3:11–12) But let’s be real, it doesn’t always feel like that when your child is sitting alone at a cafeteria table. The truth is that God is enough and we lack nothing (Ps. 23:1).

Let’s take these practical steps:

1. Listen. Listen. Listen.
2. Remind your child that God is on her side and that He is for her.
3. Share one of these 31 messages with your child every day. Speak out truth about who he is in Christ.
4. Continue to be a safe place your child can come to when she doesn’t feel like enough.
5. Read this book with your tween girl. (The FCC requires that I tell you that I’m an Amazon Affiliate, which means I earn a bit of commission on each sale. But don’t worry there’s no added cost to you!)

Just like Moses, our kids are worried they don’t have what it takes.

Moses worried about his speech impediment because good communication skills were paramount for his assignment. He not only wondered if he was worthy, but whether he was adequate.

Our kids wonder if they’re adequate too. They feel the strain of academic pressure. They wonder if they’ll pass the standardized test or be held back. They’re nervous that they won’t make friends or that not enough of their friends will like their Instagram picture or that their squad is getting together without them.

So what’s a try-hard mom to do?

Remember that God told Moses and He whispers to us, “I will help you” (Ex. 4:10–12). We are never alone. God’s eyes are always on us. He protects, provides, and encourages us each minute of the day.

Let’s take these practical steps:

1. Listen. Listen. Listen.
2. Know what your child’s stressors are by asking or watching him.
3. Help her make an action plan about how and when they’ll do homework, other commitments, and downtime.
4. As a parent, you may need to be big and bold and cut something out of your child’s schedule, wehther they like it or not.
5. Pray about creative and helpful solutions for whatever stress your child faces.

As a kid, I stressed about teachers, friends, logistics, and my hair. Your child may stress about whether they’re enough and adequate to do All The Things, and as try-hard moms we wonder what we can do.

The biggest help for all of us is to remember that God is just crazy about our kids because He takes their concerns seriously, He’s with them, and He’ll help them.

School may be stressful, but your child is never alone and always loved.

Jill McCormick
Jill McCormick is the writer behind jillemccormick.com, a blog where she shares common-sense grace with the try-hard girl. Jill’s married to her high school sweetheart Ryan. They live in South Texas with their two daughters, born 18 months apart. Most days you’ll find her with a book in her hand or a podcast in her ears. She starts and ends everyday with sprinkles: on oatmeal for breakfast and on ice cream for dessert.

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