Back to School Stress Management Tips

Written By: Katie Luce, LMFT, ACS Site Supervisor – La Entrada Middle School 

School is back in session, which can create considerable stress for students and their families. The transition from summer vacations, relaxed schedules and no homework to packed schedules can be challenging. Here are some ideas to reduce stress for yourselves and for your children this season.

  • Role model good self-care and talk to your children about how you manage your own stress. Listen to their struggles and ask if they would like suggestions rather than just trying to “fix” the problem. Often, they just want to be heard by someone whom they know cares about their well-being. A good time for talking to them might be when driving or taking a walk.
  • If your child is experiencing significant anxiety or depression, i.e., if it affects their functioning and occurs most of the time, it may be that they are struggling with negative or anxious thoughts. These thoughts often increase at bedtime, as they think about the next day. Choose a meditation or mindfulness exercise and practice it with your child and/or on your own. There are some options listed at the end of this article.
  • Regular exercise is very helpful in reducing stress and creates serotonin in the brain. Encourage your child to join a sports team, take walks with the dog, hike or try a yoga class.
  • Maintaining good sleep hygiene can help with managing stress. At least 8 hours but preferably 9 hours a night is recommended for children and adolescents. Encourage your children to read before bed rather than having screen time. Try to have them stop using screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
  • It’s ideal to have dinner together as a family at least a few times per week if your schedule allows, so you can talk about the day and connect with your child.
  • Encourage enjoyable activities and hobbies, such as art, playing an instrument, journaling, drama, sports, etc., so they are not constantly focused on their phone or computer.
  • If possible, make an effort to get to know your child’s friends. Having a positive peer group is important for the development of identity and learning how to maintain good relationships. Try to respect your child’s privacy and choices, while also taking an interest in who they are spending their time with. Encourage them to have friends over to your home, assuring them you will give them space and not “hover”.
  • Try family activities such as bowling, game night, mini golf, etc. Have fun together! Your child may be resistant to this, but encourage them to try it once and see how it goes. Usually, they will enjoy it and it’s a great way to bond with them in a positive way.
  • Set reasonable limits to phone and screen/game time and have a conversation about why you are doing this. Be open to their ideas and feelings about it, and create reasonable compromises when possible. Be very clear up front about specific consequences for not following the rules.
  • Counseling-if your child seems to have significant and ongoing anxiety or depression or other emotional challenges, seek out a psychotherapist in the community or contact your child’s guidance counselor for referrals. Talk to your child about your concerns and why you think counseling might be helpful.
  • Adolescent Counseling Services provides counseling on-site at school and also has a Community Counseling Center with offices in Redwood City and Palo Alto. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please contact the Intake Coordinator at 650.424.0852 x104 .


Here are a few recommended meditation apps/websites:

  • Stop, Breathe, and Think. This app is helpful because it opens with a short “interview” where users select several words to describe how they are feeling, and then the app recommends guided meditations for their current state.
  • NatureScenes. Provides a variety of calming music which can be used while practicing mindfulness meditation
  • – a web site with free guided meditations

Book Recommendations for your family

– How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success. Julie-Lythcott-Haimes

– Parenting Your Stressed Child.  Michelle L. Bailey, MD.

– Building Resilience in Children and Teens:  Giving Kids Roots and Wings.  Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP.

– The Parents Little Book of Lists. Jane Bluestein, PhD

– Get Out of my Life, but First could you Drive me and Cheryl to the Mall? Anthony Wolf, PhD