Back to School Stress Busters

Back to school clothes.  Back to school supplies.  Back to school parties.  They’re everywhere!  This time of year, you can’t escape the fact that it’s back to school time.  For some of us it’s a time of rejoicing.  For others of us (me) it’s a time of sadness (I always hate to see summer go).  For many it’s a time of stress and worry.

Back to school stress can arise for many reasons:

  • The start of a new school
  • Struggles with friends
  • Trouble with academics
  • Difficulty with classroom behavior
  • Hatred of homework
  • Fears of a new teacher

The good news is, many back to school worries can be managed in the days and weeks before the first day.  Here are some tips:

Practice the first day.  Many of us worry about the unknown. So why not take the guess work out of the first day? Pick out an outfit, get the back pack ready, make a trial lunch and drive to school – just to see what it will be like on the big day.  Many schools even allow nervous students a sneak peak into their classrooms before the official first day of school.  I often recommend this to families, as getting a glimpse of the school, classroom and teacher can do a world of good to the stressed-out student.

Talk about it.  This is one almost seems too easy to actually work – but it does!  Many of us hold in our fears and worries, allowing them to fester and grow.  Instead, allow your student a chance to talk through their thoughts about going back to school.  You might be surprised about what they are worried and excited about!

Keep expectations in check.  While having high and clear expectations can be a wonderful thing, going over them and over them right before school begins might be a breeding ground for stress.  Instead, enjoy the last few days of summer before hammering out expectations for homework, grades and extracurriculars.

For more tips on conquering back to school stress, check out these articles:

Back to School Lunches

Back to School Blues

Back to School Worries




Back To School Lunches

My friends over at Produce for Kids have a really cool thing going as we head back to school.  Here’s the scoop:

The new Power Your Lunchbox Pledge by Produce for Kids®, launching August 11 and running through September 15, encourages parents to pack healthier lunchboxes for their kids this back-to-school season. Visitors to can pledge to pack healthier lunchboxes; get RD-approved, kid-friendly lunchbox ideas and tips; and download coupons from companies supporting the program.
For every pledge that families or individuals take, participating produce companies will make a 25 cent donation to to fund health and wellness classroom projects around the country. Additionally, Define Bottle will be providing with 20 percent of each sale during the pledge time frame.

Check out some of these yummy-looking lunch ideas:

Need more lunch ideas? Check out Produce for Kids. Want to take the pledge for healthier lunches? Click here.

Happy eating!

Why Are So Many Kids Diagnosed with ADHD?

I was recently interviewed for a story in the Yuma Sun, in which the reporter (Chris McDaniel) sought to answer the question:

Why are so many kids diagnosed with ADHD these days? 

I thought the story turned out great, and did a nice job providing some answers to this question that I have heard so many times.  Hint: we are more aware of the ADHD, its symptoms, and how to diagnose and treat it effectively.

The story also describes the various treatments for ADHD – which don’t just include medication! Check it out:

Yuma Sun: ADHD Vigilance Leading to More Diagonses, Doc Says

Yuma Sun: ADHD Vigilance Leading to More Diagonses, Doc Says

Talking to Troubled Kids

Talking to kids and teenagers when you suspect something is wrong at home, something’s different in their mood or when you think they might be in some kind of trouble with friends can be scary.  It’s hard to know what (and what not) to say.  Many of us are afraid to get involved for fear of making the situation worse, or putting ourselves in a vulnerable position as adults.

I (and a few other psychologists) recently helped the American Psychological Association assemble a tip sheet for talking with kids when you suspect they need help.  These tips are useful for teachers, neighbors, family members, friends – just about anyone who has contact with kids or teens.  Here’s my favorite tip from the list:

Be genuine. 

Try to avoid speaking from a script. Teens can tell when you’re not being genuine. If you are open, authentic and relaxed, it will help them to be the same.

To see more tips, check them out here at APA’s Help Center.

Making Classroom Parties Healthy…and Fun!

fun and healthy treats

For lots of school age kids, the holiday season means school parties, pageants and plays. These can be a lot of fun, of course, but they can also mean an abundance of sweets and high fat foods.

Sure, we all love to have a treat now and then, but a recent LiveWell Colorado survey found that Colorado moms estimated their young kids can eat up to 2-3 sugary snacks per week (cupcakes, cookies, cereal treats) in the classroom.

That’s more than a “treat” – that’s a regular part of the diet!

Most of us enjoy an indulgence once in a while. In fact cupcakes and other desserts and snacks can be part of a healthy diet when eaten in moderation. Making sure that moderation (and not domination!) is in place, however, can be tricky, particularly when it comes to treats outside of the home.

So what is a family to do? How can we help our kids stick to a healthy eating routine while having fun at the same time? How can you be “that parent” who monitors nutrition at school but who isn’t at the same time annoying, embarrassing or pushy?

….Check out the rest of this article over at LiveWell Colorado – including 5 easy tips for hosting healthy school parties.

Childhood Obesity: Simple Steps for the New School Year

I read this article about childhood obesity over on Yahoo! today and it made me so sad. Of course we have all seen and heard the statistics about our kids getting bigger and less healthy, but for some reason this article really got me thinking. So many of us struggle to make changes in our lives because the changes we need to make seem so big, overwhelming, and frankly,  un-doable.  I think this deer-in-the-headlights phenomenon happens to families when we hear about all the things we should be doing for and with our kids each day: 60 minutes of active outdoor time, 3 home-cooked meals, 30 minutes of reading, plenty of time for free play and spontaneous conversation. Ugh. It’s overwhelming and just not possible for most of us (at least not everyday!).

So after looking at Yahoo!’s article and thinking about the reasons they note for childhood obesity, I am offering some tips for the new school year.  I hope you can find at least one tip to incorporate into your family’s school year routine.

Quit trying to reinvent the wheel.  There are lots of blogs out there that specialize in menus, meal plans and recipes that are simple, cheap, healthy and most importantly: hold their own when it comes to picky eaters.  Some of my favorite sites? Produce for Kids (full disclosure: I am on their advisory board) and Six Sisters Stuff.  Gourmet chefs these folks are not, but who really wants to eat gourmet every night anyway?

Water, water everywhere. We get it: soda pop and juice are pretty bad for us. Try switching just ONE beverage each day to water and go from there.  To make the transition easier, you may want to invest in a cool water bottle, some twisty straws, or my favorites – Red Solo cups!

Forget exercise, let’s just get active. I have tried to stop using the word “exercise” because there are all of about 14 people who actually want to do. “Activity” on the other hand, sounds like a lot more fun and elicits many fewer moans and groans when mentioned.  Activity also includes tons of interesting things that most of us want to do anyway: play badminton, plant flowers, go canoeing, ride bikes to the library and walk around the mall.  This school year, try encouraging (and demonstrating) activity to your kids by planning outings as a family or trying new activities after school.

If nothing else, eat together. We can blame our lack of family dinners on our busy schedules sometimes, but let’s face it: sometimes it’s just lack of motivation, preparation and organization that keeps us from sharing meals together. We know that eating dinner together more often than not helps in all sorts of ways (helps us all eat healthier foods, keeps kids away from drugs, encourages conversation and discourages family stress – check out this article on how and why family dinners are important).  In fact, participating in family dinners seems to be about the most important thing we can do to encourage health in our children.

Want more information and tips?

The Importance of Family Dinners

Making the Most of Dinnertime



New (School) Year Resolutions

photo credit

photo credit

“I’m so sad summer’s over!”

“I can’t wait for my kids to go back to school!”

“Why did you even have kids if you’re so eager to get rid of them?!”

“I’m dreading homework, soccer practice, and the routine of school!”

Every family is  different and summer means unique things to all of us. While I’m not sure that looking forward to our kids’ going back to school means we’re bad parents, I do think that being somewhat ambivalent about summer’s end is pretty normal.

For many families, the start of the school year also means a chance to start fresh: eat healthier meals, stick to earlier bedtimes and reinforce chore charts. It can be a perfect time of year to consider what changes might be helpful around the house. Even if your family doesn’t include kids, many of us see August/September as a time to start anew, buy some new pens and hope for better days ahead.

What are your “new year’s” resolutions for this school year?



Homework: A Psychologist’s Perspective, Revisited

I am re-posting this article because we are back into the swing of the new school year.  I make no apologies, I am pretty much against homework for young children.  If I ruled the world (and believe me, I sometimes try) there would be no homework for elementary kids, very little for middle schoolers, and reasonable quantities for high school students.  I was extra-pleased to receive this comment from Erika recently:

  I have been an elementary school teacher for 12 years now, and I have taught grades 1 through 6. I haven’t given homework for years. My students are expected to read to or with a family member (depending on reading level), and that’s it. The only exception is unfinished class work due to lack of effort on their part. My collegues all disagree with me, saying that it is crucial for learning time management skills and for getting through the extensive curriculum, but I say that if they give %100 for the school day, they get the rest of the time off. How are they supposed to get the recommended 1 hour of physical activity a day, and fit in family time, imaginative play, lessons/clubs, and downtime? As for time management, they are occasionally assigned projects, which help develop those skills. And believe me, they manage their time quite well when they know they’ll have homework if they don’t complete their class assignments!
I know that my parents love it… I get an incredible reaction at curriculum night. This year, I think a few of them almost clapped.

Glad to see I am not alone!

Here’s the original post:

I have written before about my thoughts on homework.  Mainly, I’m against it.  At least for elementary schoolers, and possibly even for middle schoolers.  I can see the benefits of homework for high schoolers.  Reading literature, working on calculus problems, and writing up science experiments seem like worthy ways to spend time for the high school set.  But “work sheets” for young kids and tweens mostly seem like a waste of time.

In talking to a colleague the other day (who shared my opinion), I tried to come up with a few guidelines for when I think homework might be appropriate for kids.  Admittedly, I am not an educator and don’t share their expertise and perspective on homework (I am open to comments!).  This is what I think from the perspective of a psychologist:

Goals.  There should be a clear goal when homework is given.  Homework for homework’s sake is not a good enough reason for me.  There should be a compelling reason that children need to crack open the books at home.

Priorities.  I am always hopeful that teachers and administrators keep in mind that each minute a child spends doing homework is one less minute they can spend: exercising, spending quality time with family, engaging in music lessons, volunteering in the community, preparing healthy meals, relaxing, engaging in imaginative play, and/or getting the sleep they need to grow and thrive.  Is the homework assigned more important than those things?  If not, then it can probably be skipped.

Development.  In order for homework to be an effective teaching tool, children should be able to remember they have homework, be able to read the assignment and understand the task, complete the assignment with minimal (if any) parental help, put the work in their bag, and return it to their teacher – all without assistance.  If they require more than minimal parental assistance on any of these steps – they are just too young!  Homework should not be an added burden for the parents and/or a daily potential fight between family members – but an adjunct to the hours spent in school.

Teachers, parents, educators – what am I missing?  Are there reasons for assigning homework that I am missing?  Other guidelines you employ when deciding whether or not to assign homework?

Summer’s Over – Emotions are Mixed

I guess it depends where you live, but in this neck of the woods summer is over! Kids headed back to school this week and I am seeing (and feeling!) mixed emotions all around me.

Kids are excited to see friends, nervous for new teachers and classes, and dreading homework and morning routines. Parents are filled with similar emotions – dread, relief, and happiness. These feelings (and lots of others) are normal and to be expected.  They may also change rapidly over the next few weeks as we get settled into new routines and say goodbye to summer for good.  Plenty of sleep, healthy foods, and physical activity can ease the transition, as can sharing your feelings.

For more information on dealing with the back to school blues, check out the American Psychological Association’s article here.