Back to School: Beat the Blues

Start the year cool, calm and collected.

by Alex Sheffield | Mon, August 28, 2017

As the summer sun begins to fade, a new school year lies just around the corner, bringing with it an exciting new chapter. For some, however, the anticipation of this fresh start can lead to nerves, anxiety and stress. In the lead-up to that first day, there will undoubtedly be a mix of emotions for both parents and students alike, but luckily there are ways to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Practical planning

Back to School Blackboard Checklist

Whether starting at a new school or returning for another year, preparation is key. Most schools provide welcome packs detailing what is needed prior to the first day or at some point within the first week. Joshua Roller, Director of Admissions and Recruitment at Shanghai Livingston American School (SLAS), recommends making a checklist of necessary supplies a week or two before the start of school; for example: 

“If a student is riding a bike to school, do they have a functioning lock and helmet?”

Packing school bags and preparing clothes the night before will also help make the next morning less hectic.

Schools in Shanghai require up-to-date health information for each student when enrolling or returning, including vaccination records and any major health concerns. Some establishments may request specific vaccinations prior to joining; Roller explains that international schools closely check to make sure students have the correct immunizations. “If not, [at SLAS] we kindly ask parents to take their child to see a doctor and have those shots completed,” he says.

However, Roshiley Tilistyak, Nursing Coordinator at Western International School Shanghai (WISS), points out that:

“setting fixed immunization requirements at international schools is difficult due to varying cultural beliefs and requirements from different home countries.”

She also highlights that teachers should be made aware of illnesses that may affect the student’s performance at school – such as obsessive-com- pulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or depression – so they can receive the best support available. Information regarding food allergies is also vital. If students have specific dietary requirements, most schools can accommodate this, with some such as SLAS also catering for Hindu, Muslim and Jewish students wherever possible.

Banishing nerves

Maths school work

Returning to school brings with it a range of emotions depending on the child in question. Some will be eager to catch up with friends and look forward to having a routine, while others may be more reluctant to leave the comfort of home. Licensed Mental Health Counselor Christine Forte of Balanced Heart Counseling recommends beating the blues by planning something fun for the weekend immediately after school starts:

“This can help with alleviating the feeling that just because summer is over doesn’t mean the fun is . . . It can be helpful for parents to make sure they are as familiar with the environment as their child . . . Connecting with possible resources and support in advance can be helpful in providing reassurance.”

When it comes to university students, however, this can be a whole different ballgame, as the start of school usually involves leaving home for the first time.

Spotting the signs

Colored crayons

Nerves can present themselves in different ways, from physical ailments such as stom- achaches, headaches or diarrhea to sleep problems, quietness and even behavioral issues. In these cases, Director of Counseling Carrie Jones of Community Center Shanghai believes that students benefit from a reminder that “school is a place of learning, but should also be fun – a place to make friends and memories.” Jones advises parents to “be transparent – tell kids about times you felt nervous and what you did.”

Above all, be positive, optimistic, hopeful and avoid becoming “helicopter parents,” always rushing to the rescue rather than letting kids solve problems themselves. “Make sure you, as a parent, practice good self-care and have someone other than your child(ren) to talk to about your feelings,” Jones says. Merav Wirthiem, school counselor at WISS, advises that the best way to encourage communication from children is to provide a safe, non-interrogative environment and suggests choosing a moment when they might not expect to have a serious talk, such as while out walking the dog or cooking.

In globalized cities like Shanghai, there is the added complication of frequent changes to friendship groups as the revolving expat door continues to spin. According to Evie Slatter, elementary guidance counselor at Concordia International School, most students identify friendships as the most important element of their school years. “Children experience frequent and significant loss when friends move away, so it’s important for parents to help them learn how to cope in healthy ways,” she says. Slatter highlights the importance of “staying open to new friendships and connections by assisting in welcoming newcomers.”

Routine is righteous

School library

A key piece of advice from experts is to establish a good routine. Many recommend getting children back into a regular pattern at least one or two weeks before going back to school; some also suggesting that keeping a structure throughout the summer holiday can be hugely beneficial. This consists of healthy eating at regular times, exercise, limiting time spent with electronic devices and plenty of rest. Slatter says that getting enough good-quality sleep is important for students to function well at school:

“If holiday hours allow for a later bedtime and wake-up, it would be helpful for children to begin adjusting their schedule before the last minute of returning."

Many students complain about upset stomachs during back-to-school time, as the majority frequently skip breakfast and/ or lunch in favor of unhealthy snacks, explains Tilistyak. “Students should be reminded of the nutritional value of meals and what it does to focus and concentration in class,” she says. “A hungry tummy is not school friendly!”

Eating lighter meals with more varied vegetables can help with the exhaustion that often accompanies the first weeks of school, for both children and adults. “By eating heavy foods, our body has to expend more energy to digest, which leaves us with less energy to go about our day,” says health and wellness coach Kimberly Ashton, co-founder of Sprout Lifestyle. Ashton shares that whole grains are the best foods for energy and concentration, as they are high in fiber, which takes longer to digest and also keeps blood sugar levels balanced for sustained energy.

Tips for talking with your teenager

• Listen to them!

• Remember that teens’ emotions, feelings and issues are as real and valid as adults’

• Address tough issues openly and early on

• Use opened-ended questions as much as possible

• Don’t overreact or panic when your teen tells you something

• Be careful not to lecture, nag or tell your teen what to do (or how to feel)

• Use lots of praise and encouragement, and not just for major accomplishments

• Don’t be afraid to admit to your teen when you are wrong, and make sure to apologize when needed

– Carrie Jones, Community Center Shanghai