Tips for understanding, responding to stress as school starts back this fall

Tips for understanding, responding to stress as school starts back this fall

By Kristin Lowrey and Anne Lawton
Special to The Alabama Baptist

Life is full of changes. Transitions from one stage of life to another are a normal part of life. These transitions are often happy times, like marriage, the birth of a child, starting a new job or moving to a new home. Sometimes the transitions are bittersweet, like sending a child to kindergarten or off to college. These times can bring great joy but they can also be a source of great stress. 

Stress affects individuals in many different ways. Stress can cause physiological, emotional and behavioral changes manifested in depression, fatigue, headaches, increased heart rate, high blood pressure, sleeping too much or too little, weight gain or loss, irritability, feeling overwhelmed and/or trouble with concentration and memory. 

In children the symptoms are often similar. Stressed children may experience frequent stomachaches or headaches, difficulty concentrating, changes in sleeping or eating, feelings of nervousness, restlessness or dread, difficulty concentrating and/or loss of interest in activities. 

Talk about feelings

However, children may not have the vocabulary to express how they are feeling.

Helping your child talk about how he or she feels is a great first step. 

For younger children four main feeling words are helpful for them to be able to identify in themselves — happy, sad, mad and nervous. As a child grows older additional descriptive emotional words are helpful, such as ecstatic, bored, overwhelmed or confused. 

Chat daily

Parents have an opportunity to create an encouraging tone with intentional conversations and language that may open doors for deeper discussions and expressions of feelings. Take time daily to chat, perhaps by letting each family member share his or her favorite part of the day and the hardest part of the day. 

Stay attuned for signs of transitional stress as your child adjusts to school. Four important areas to consider include sleep, nutrition, exercise and morning routine. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, the number of hours children ages 5 to 18 need to sleep ranges from 8 to 11 hours per night depending on the age of your child and your child’s individual needs. 

It is crucial to know your child’s nightly need for sleep and to make sleep a priority even if it means saying no to evening activities.

A balanced diet is essential for students to be at their best for learning and for their body to function properly. Balanced eating may help your student face any emotional challenges during the day. 

Some simple nutrition guidelines from the Mayo clinic suggest considering nutrient-dense foods including protein, fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Incorporate more whole-wheat bread, brown and wild rice, oatmeal and popcorn, and limit refined grains while avoiding added sugar as well as saturated and trans fats. In addition be certain your child is staying hydrated.

Physical exercise

The Mayo Clinic recommends teens and children ages 6 and older get one hour of physical exercise per day. Exercise and movement are a wonderful time to connect with your child and to spend time together.

Finally make the morning routine a priority. When possible a predictable and peaceful breakfast is conducive to checking in emotionally with your student before school. 

This may require that backpacks are packed and breakfast is prepped the night before.

Also remember to pray for your children often. Parents have wonderful intentions and some good follow-through, but we need the Lord’s strength for ourselves and for our children. Our Heavenly Father cares about children and truly loves them unconditionally.

Finally know that the challenges our children face can be used by the Lord to shape their character and make them more like Him. 

EDITOR’S NOTE — Faith & Family is a monthly look at important spiritual, cultural and relational issues facing today’s families. For more articles on contemporary topics like these go to

Kristin Lowrey is a licensed social worker and registered play therapist supervisor and is clinical director of children and adolescents for Pathways Professional Counseling, a sister ministry of Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries. Anne Lawton served as a counselor with Pathways for more than 10 years and currently volunteers with both Pathways and Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes.