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Is school stressing out your child? 10 ways to tell—and help them feel better

Because your child may not be able to find the right words to describe.

Is school stressing out your child? 10 ways to tell—and help them feel better

We all want our kids to come home from school chattering happily about their day, but that doesn’t always happen. Separation can feel very different and very real for children, especially at the start of a school year when they are taking on so many new challenges.


Among the list of things that children need to adapt to, count on these to pile on pressure:

  • It can feel really hard following classroom rules
  • Getting to know a roomful of children can be daunting
  • Days can feel long
  • Even the best teacher can’t offer constant emotional connection
  • They may have separation anxiety
  • Some children may dislike transitions or find them difficult to cope with

Going to school can feel like a big separation, even when a child is enthusiastic about it. That distance can be hard for a child to describe. “Young children under stress won’t be able to articulate what they are feeling, but they will be able to give you signals with their behavior when things aren’t going well,” says Hand in Hand Parenting’s Heidi Russell.

Her son would happily talk about the start of school in the days leading up to it, but he also became more clingy at bedtime. Heidi saw that this was his way of saying he needed a little more attention than usual to feel safe and secure.

How does school stress play out? Because children have a harder time accessing the language they might need to tell you something is wrong, look out for signs that stress has set in.

During the first few weeks, you might notice some of these early signs:

  • Can’t maintain eye contact
  • Doesn’t want to be touched
  • Shows inflexible, uncooperative behavior
  • Not open to choice or change—kids want things done in specific ways even when given a choice
  • Attention stuck on playthings, and they might not want to interact with others
  • They may not include other children in play, or they may choose to play with just a certain child or children
  • They may want you closer than normal or become clingy
  • Listlessness or becoming unfocused on tasks and/or play
  • Holding onto a comfort item
  • Stuck in repetitive play or activities

Why does distance matter?

School means distance away from the people a child loves most, and this can be tough on our little ones. Their connection to us feels broken. The region of our brain that detects safety and connection, the limbic system, senses this break and moves into protection mode.

“It’s like a big internal alarm goes off, emotions and fears can flood their brain in that moment and temporarily shut down the capacity to reason and cooperate,” says Marilupe de la Calle at Hand in Hand Parenting. This gives way first to the early warning signs listed above, which are then often followed by tears and tantrums.

One-on-one time boosts trust

During times of transition, it really helps to meet your child where they are. A daily session of time spent together in play is a great way to do this. Set a clock for five or 10 minutes and tell your child that you are free to do whatever they’d like with them during this Special Time. Simply follow their lead.

Rein in any criticism of their choice and fight the urge to direct things. The limbic section of their brain can calm as it picks up on these regular safe play sessions. And, since play is a child’s language, they may actually express more about what’s going on with them than if you had just asked through what they choose to play, or how they play.

Make time to listen

If there’s any time you can bank on some extra crying or tantrums, it’s around the start of school. Because tears are a great way to relieve the stress your child is feeling, allow yourself extra time to listen as these troubles come tumbling out.

Give your child ample time and support to let these feelings go. If your child fights you every step of the way in the mornings, try getting up 10 minutes early. If they need extra stories and snuggles at night, factor in an earlier bedtime routine until they are feeling more secure.

Up the fun levels

Laughter goes a long way in helping a child bust through stress, helping him feel safe and secure. Make things as playful as possible from the start.

If he needs help dressing, try putting some items on the wrong way to get some giggles. Or give her bowl of cereal a personality and have it talk to her. Or race your kids out to the car. After school, pillow fights, chase games or hide and seek can be a fun and playful way to reconnect.

My village lives far away—but my Target baby registry helped them support me from afar

Virtual support was the next best thing to in-person hugs

They say you shouldn't make too many major life transitions at once. But when I was becoming a mama for the first time nearly five years ago, my husband and I also moved to a new town where we didn't know a soul, bought our first house and changed jobs.

To put it mildly, we didn't heed that advice. Luckily, our family and friends still made it feel like such a magical time for us by supporting our every move (literal and otherwise) from afar. They showered us with love through a virtual baby shower (expectant parents nowadays can relate!) featuring the unwrapping of gifts they were able to ship straight to me from my Target registry.

Here's one piece of advice I did take: I registered at Target so I could take advantage of the retailer's benefits for registrants, which include a welcome kit valued over $100, a universal registry function and more. Fast-forward a few years and Target has made the registration perks even better for expectant parents: As of August 2020, they've added a Year of Exclusive Deals, which gives users who also sign up for Target Circle a full year of savings after baby is born on all those new mama essentials, from formula to diapers and beyond.

Honestly, even without the significant perks of a free welcome kit with more than $100 in coupons, additional 15% off coupons to complete the registry and a full year of free returns, registering at Target wasn't a hard sell for me: Even though the experience of shopping for baby items was new, shopping with Target felt like returning home to me… and the comfort of that was such a gift.

And of course, Target's registry plays a vital role right now, as expectant parents everywhere are being forced to cancel in-person baby showers and navigate early parenthood without the help of a hands-on village. A registry like this represents a safe way for communities to come through for new parents. If you're anything like me (or any of the other mamas here at Motherly), you certainly have emotional ties and fond memories associated with Target.

What to register for at Target was also an easy talking point as I began to connect with moms in my new community. I will always remember going on a registry-building spree with my next door neighbor, who had young children of her own. As we walked the aisles of Target back in 2015, she suggested items to add… and we laid the foundation for what has since become one of my most cherished friendships.

Even as I made connections in my new hometown, I was nervous that expecting my first baby wouldn't feel as special as if I were near family and friends. But my loved ones exceeded all expectations by adding the most thoughtful notes to gifts. They hosted a beautiful virtual baby shower and even encouraged me to keep the registry going after my baby made his debut and new needs arose.

In the years since, "community" has taken on a wonderfully complex new meaning for me… and, in these times of social distancing, for the rest of the world. I've come to cherish my newfound friends in our local community alongside those long-time friends who are scattered around the county and my virtual mama friends.

Now, as my friends' families grow, I'm so grateful that I can show them the same love and support I felt during my first pregnancy. I sing the praises of Target's baby registry—especially in light of the pandemic, since I know mamas can do everything from a distance thanks to Target's website and the added benefit of getting trusted reviews and helpful registry checklists.

And now that I'm on the gift-buying side of the equation, I've found new joy in picking thoughtful gifts for my friends. (Because goodness knows Target has something for everyone!)

For my friend who is a fellow runner, I teamed up with a few others to give the jogging stroller she had on her registry.

For my friend who is a bookworm, I helped her start her baby's library with a few books that are also well-loved in our home.

For other friends, I've bundled together complete "sets" with everything they need for bathing or feeding their children.

I know from my own experience that, yes, the registry purchases are so appreciated, but the thoughtfulness and the support they represent means even more. Because although my village may have been distant, the support they showed me was the next best thing to in-person hugs.

Start your own Target Baby Registry here to experience a Year of Benefits including a Year of Exclusive Deals through Target Circle to enjoy for a full year following your baby's arrival, a year of free returns, two 15% off completion coupons and a free welcome kit ($100 value).

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I never wanted to be a mom. It wasn't something I ever thought would happen until I fell madly in love with my husband—who knew very well he wanted children. While he was a natural at entertaining our nephews or our friends' kids, I would awkwardly try to interact with them, not really knowing what to say or do.

Our first pregnancy was a surprise, a much-wanted one but also a unicorn, "first try" kind of pregnancy. As my belly grew bigger, so did my insecurities. How do you even mom when you never saw motherhood in your future? I focused all my uncertainties on coming up with a plan for the delivery of my baby—which proved to be a terrible idea when my dreamed-of unmedicated vaginal birth turned into an emergency C-section. I couldn't even start motherhood the way I wanted, I thought. And that feeling happened again when I couldn't breastfeed and instead had to pump and bottle-feed. And once more, when all the stress from things not going my way turned into debilitating postpartum anxiety that left me not really enjoying my brand new baby.

As my baby grew, slowly so did my confidence that I could do this. When he would tumble to the ground while learning how to walk and only my hugs could calm him, I felt invincible. But on the nights he wouldn't sleep—whether because he was going through a regression, a leap, a teeth eruption or just a full moon—I would break down in tears to my husband telling him that he was a better parent than me.

Then I found out I was pregnant again, and that this time it was twins. I panicked. I really cannot do two babies at the same time. I kept repeating that to myself (and to my poor husband) at every single appointment we had because I was just terrified. He, of course, thought I could absolutely do it, and he got me through a very hard pregnancy.

When the twins were born at full term and just as big as singleton babies, I still felt inadequate, despite the monumental effort I had made to grow these healthy babies and go through a repeat C-section to make sure they were both okay. I still felt my skin crawl when they cried and thought, What if I can't calm them down? I still turned to my husband for diaper changes because I wasn't a good enough mom for twins.

My husband reminded me (and still does) that I am exactly what my babies need. That I am enough. A phrase that has now become my mantra, both in motherhood and beyond, because as my husband likes to say, I'm the queen of selling myself short on everything.

So when my babies start crying, I tell myself that I am enough to calm them down.

When my toddler has a tantrum, I remind myself that I am enough to get through to him.

When I go out with the three kids by myself and start sweating about everything that could go wrong (poop explosions times three), I remind myself that I am enough to handle it all, even with a little humor.


And then one day I found this bracelet. Initially, I thought how cheesy it'd be to wear a reminder like this on my wrist, but I bought it anyway because something about it was calling my name. I'm so glad I did because since day one I haven't stopped wearing it.

Every time I look down, there it is, shining back at me. I am enough.

I Am Enough bracelet 

SONTAKEY  I Am Enough Bracelet

May this Oath Bracelet be your reminder that you are perfect just the way you are. That you are enough for your children, you are enough for your friends & family, you are enough for everything that you do. You are enough, mama <3

$35

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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