Preparing for a stress-free school year

Am I the only one who still gets excited when the back to school sales start?  As a former elementary school teacher, my heart still beats a little faster at the thought of picking out colorful notebooks, pencils, and folders.  I hope your daughters get just as excited about going back to school.  The start of the school year can be stressful and exciting.  Here are some ideas for helping them start the year off on a positive note.

Preventing wardrobe battles

Wardrobe battles can make school day mornings extra stressful.  The struggle with clothes starts early (as I’ve learned from my toddler) and gets more dramatic in teens (as I learned from my stepdaughter).  School dress codes only complicate these matters more – especially for those of us with tall, long-legged girls.  These tips will help reduce the daily struggle.

  1. Before going shopping with your daughter, review the school dress code with her. Be clear that the clothes purchased should meet these requirements.
  2. Set a budget and stick to it. Your daughter may be feeling pressured to purchase particular brands to fit in.  Remind her that when clothes cost more, she gets less.  Have a frank discussion about how much has been budgeted for back-to-school shopping and make a list of what items she really needs.  Then let your daughter help make some of the tough decisions.
  3. Come to agreement on the clothes at the point of purchase. Parents have varied opinions on length of clothing as well as shirt styles, etc.  If you don’t purchase shorts, skirts, or dresses that you are uncomfortable with, then there should be no surprises when she walks out of her room in the morning dressed for school.
  4. Finally, if your daughter struggles with getting ready on time in the mornings, spend some time on Sunday evenings setting out clothes for the week. You can purchase an inexpensive 5 shelf hanging closet organizer to hold a week’s worth of outfits.

Clothing can help a girl feel confident and poised or become a battle of wills that will ultimately undermine a girls’ self-esteem and the parent-child relationship.  With some forethought and planning, there is no reason for clothing to become a battleground.

Fighting against perfectionism

As discussed in some of our previous articles, so many girls pressure themselves to be perfect and we inadvertently encourage this perfectionism.  This can lead to fearful, unhappy girls who limit themselves to avoid failure.

Remind your girls to try new things this school year.  Encourage them to look at failure objectively as a process towards self-improvement.  Are they on the fence about signing up for an honors level class?  Do they want to audition for the school musical but are scared they won’t make the cut?  Do they want to tryout for volleyball despite not having a lot of experience?  Encourage them to step out of their comfort zone, and, if they fail, give them a soft place to land.

Nurturing their uniqueness

I just recently finished reading Celeste Ng’s book, Everything I Never Told You.  It highlighted the impact that parents’ dreams and expectations can inadvertently have on their children.  It was a great reminder to me not to assume that my daughter will want or like to do the same things that I did.  As parents, we often seek to provide our children with the opportunities we feel we missed out on.  This can be a wonderful opportunity for children, but we need to remember that our daughters have their own opinions, dreams, and interests.

This school year help your daughter discover her interests.  Perhaps you dreamed of being a cheerleader and have spent hundreds of dollars paying for gymnastics to prepare your daughter for tryouts.  Maybe this will make her happy – or maybe she’d rather be in the school play or Science Olympiad.  Our daughters often want to make us happy even if it isn’t what they truly want.  Step back and talk to your daughter about the priorities she has for the school year then support her in those interests.  Discovering her own interests has the added benefit of helping her find a tribe of like-minded friends!

Encouraging communication

Some of our daughters will go happily bounding into this school year loving their teachers, classes, and friends.  Others might struggle more, sometimes daily or occasionally throughout the year.  Keep the lines of communication open.  Some girls will be very open with their concerns while others require more delicate questioning.  Pay attention to when your daughter seems to be most comfortable talking. I have a friend whose daughter is never ready to talk after school but will open up when they are doing an activity together like cooking dinner.  Others find driving in the car to be the ideal time to talk.

Never downplay your daughter’s concerns.  Remember, just because something doesn’t seem like a big deal to you doesn’t mean it isn’t incredibly significant to her.  Find ways to encourage your daughter to talk and, as the parent, prioritize listening over responding.  We want to lead our daughters to make good decisions, but sometimes it is best to just ask them guiding questions and let them develop a plan of response.  Whether it’s responding to “mean girl” politics, a bad grade, or relationship problems, encourage your girls to be reflective and think of a plan.  And, of course, if your daughter appears depressed or distressed don’t be afraid to seek professional help!

Finding time for self-care

Oftentimes, our daughters can get overly busy, tired, and stressed during the school year just as we can when working.  Don’t forget to teach your daughter some self-care strategies for managing stress.  Consider a parent-child yoga class, building in a weekly nature walk, or simply popping some popcorn for a Friday night movie marathon on the couch.  Recognizing that school can be stressful for even our most laid back children helps us teach them stress management skills that can benefit them throughout their lives.

Take a deep breath; Label all the folders in Sharpie marker; And, have a fun, stress-free, and successful school year!

About Joanna Durham-Barnes

Joanna Durham-Barnes is mom to a fierce and feisty 2-year-old and stepmom to a strong and sassy young millennial. Joanna is a former elementary school teacher and college professor. She earned her master’s degree in International Education Policy from Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction from Indiana University. She focused her career on issues of social justice in teacher education before becoming a stay-at-home mom (who never stays at home). When not spending way too much time on social media, Joanna loves to spend time with her family, travel, read, and watch live theater.

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