Everywhere I look, there are posts about how to manage back-to-school stress! What happened to the days when you packed up one notebook with the black and white “marble” cover a couple of pencils, your brown-bag lunch and enjoyed the newness of back-to-school? But the stress is real for many.

The Back-to-School Bedtime Summit, August 28-30, will be the first-ever event that acknowledges re-setting sleep routines is key to a successful school year….and a cornerstone of managing back-to-school stress.

The speakers have been interviewed, the site set up, my learning curve on all things “telesummit” has taken a drastic uptick….

Needless to say I’m a wee bit anxious. And that’s what this post’s about – managing my own stress.

I’ve had a Google news alert out on bedtime routines, sleep, sleep and kids…you name it…for a couple of years now. Most of those stories repeat similar information.

One of the stories that comes up on the Internet when you search for back-to-school is how to deal with kids’ (and parents’) anxieties. Anxiety – like grace and love and learning and change – happens. It’s a partner to growth and opportunity.

For parents and caregivers, here’s what our back-to-school stressors can look like:
Number 1: child’s and/or children’s happiness
Number 2: child’s and/or children’s future happiness and success

Liselle Hill of Mothering Outside the Lines said in her interview for the Back-to-School Bedtime Summit that probably the One Big Thing that haunts every parent is the question “Am I screwing up my child?”

Of course we’re not, but it is a worry that comes back.

After those two huge anxiety-producing stressors, parents face the expense of books and tech items, getting all the errands and doctor’s appointments scheduled, picking out seasonal clothes (that don’t “shame” your middle-schooler), wondering if you pulled the short-straw when it comes to teachers…

…basically – is your child going to be happy enough to engage in the school year successfully?

A kid’s anxiety list might include these questions:

Will I make new friends? Will I lose old friends? Am I smart/cool/pretty/thin/athletic enough? Did I draw the short straw when it comes to teachers? What will lunch time be like? What if I’m late to (insert event here)?

And the itty-bitties will be dealing with first-ever school attendance, separation anxiety, and even wonder how mom or dad or the caregiver’s doing.

…and we haven’t even covered teacher and administrator anxieties!

Which means one thing: everyone is swimming in a big pool of free-floating back-to-school anxiety.


But there are scientifically proven ways to get out of the anxiety pool easily.

The first step is deal with your own anxiety by naming it. Pull out a piece of paper (maybe one of those 8 under-used color-coded blank notebooks you were told to purchase for last year’s class load in the “must-have” memo from the school. I have not had to purchase blank paper since my daughter left high school. She’s now a college graduate living away from home. And my husband and I do a lot of writing.)

OK…that mini rant is over.

Find your piece of blank paper, sit down with all electronics off and start writing…name everything you’re worried about even if it’s not school-related or even kid-related.

Then take out some colored pencils or markers

Again, you don’t have to buy anything. Maybe your house has a drawer filled with different colored highlighters because every year you believed that you had to get every single thing on the back-to-school purchase list and when it said “new highlighters in 6 different colors” you were a good Do-Bee and got brand new highlighters in 6 different colors!

…you know, there’s a purpose to these rantsare you beginning to see how you don’t have to do everything you’re told to do? That you have the power to discern the spirit of the back-to-school shopping list rather than the letter of its law?

Because that’s step number 2 – start clustering all those worries according to theme and assign a color to each group. “Mind-map” them by drawing circles on a piece of paper and re-writing them in each circle.

The puzzle of your anxieties will start to come together.

Highlight them! Maybe you can do this with your family and put them on one of those leftover pieces of poster board from the science fair display or the expensive paper you got for the awesome history project you did where you did a rubbing of Peter Stuyvesant’s tombstone and the teacher lost the rubbing….

…but I digress.

Now you’re going to take that list, or mind-map, or collage and ask yourself “Is this going to matter in a month? A year? 5 years? A lifetime?”

And you’ll see that yes, it might be worth it to buy the middle-school girl uniform of Uggs, leggings, and fleece in a cool color because your kid will feel included during a season in her life where feeling included is super important. But if your son’s Pinewood Derby car isn’t weighted just so but he’s replicated tie-dye tee he loves and he loses the race but feels empowered to create… that’s going to be a greater memory.

And if you draw the short-straw with a teacher you can use that as an opportunity to be an advocate for your kid or just say “It happens. It stinks, but it happens. Everything is a learning opportunity.” Maybe the teacher is assigned a subject he or she doesn’t know that much about. Maybe the teacher is an expert in o-gauge model railroads or animation from the 1920s. Dig a little deeper…but not too deep.

And if you’re really gutsy, you can do what a friend of mine did for her daughter up until 6th grade: she set a timer for 45 minutes for homework. If the child was still working, she’d handwrite a note on the homework, saying her family policy is to limit homework and it’s more important her child play outdoors and read recreationally.

I never had the courage to do that…and you know, I kind of regret it. No, I definitely regret it.

It’s an attitude shift that comes first with a shift in beliefs – as you’ll learn from listening to Liselle Hill and the other speakers at the Back-to-School Bedtime Summit. What matters most? How do we truly connect with our kids?

The rest of the work to reduce our own anxieties are simple:
– Breathe mindfully
– Organize clutter
– Practice, as a family, what your vision of the school year will be. Melitsa Avila of Raising Playful Tots has a super helpful interview on her family’s back-to-school practices.

Here’s how I deal with the strategies for managing back-to-school stress listed above:
1. Breathe mindfully: As a singer, I know a lot about breath and really connect with my breath when I consciously sense how my breath is functioning anatomically. You hear a bit of that on My Time – the guided meditation for caregivers that is a gift for signing up for the Back-to-School Bedtime Summit.

2. Organize clutter: Flylady’s system. And because Flylady is kind of endearing in that you get a gazillion emails from the organization each day, the result is a cluttered inbox. So I use Unroll.me.

3. Family vision: Boy do I wish I was this aware to have had a family practice of envisioning what our school year would be! I do this daily through writing (I use Janet Conner’s Writing Down Your Soul as a morning practice) and then distilling just 3 most important tasks that are put in the context of a more long-term vision.

…of course remember you and your family will manage back-to-school anxiety and everything else when you respect sleep, factoring that into your schedule.

And here’s a terrific tool for parents on managing stress during any time of year – Kate Hanley, aka Ms. Mindbody – has written a recipe book for stress, The Anywhere, Anytime Chill Guide.

Create space for your own calm time and download My Time, a guided meditation for caregivers. You’re doing a great job!


In your experience, how do you deal with anxiety successfully? Please share below!