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A smiling little boy sitting between his parents.

Make time for potential conversations with your child. Research shows that there are certain times of day--the drive to school, dinnertime, or just before going to bed--when children tend to open up.

Manage back-to-school stress

By Linda Bearinger

From eNews, September 29, 2005

Parents sometimes minimize how stressful the return to school can be for children. Imagine yourself in this scenario: You've been away from your job for three months, and now you have to go back to work full-time after 13 weeks of relaxing, playing, and doing whatever you want to do. That's stressful. And it's even more difficult for young people if they're switching schools within the same district or moving to a new place altogether. If returning to school coincides with a divorce, a death, or the dramatic changes that come with puberty, going back to school can be particularly stressful.

While children are remarkably resilient when it comes to coping with such situations, parents can help ease the transition. Here are some tips:

Be available when your children want to talk. It might be late at night or while you're cooking dinner, but you have to be available on their terms and schedule. Even if they're sending off a lot of signals that say, "Mom and Dad, you're not important" or "I don't want to talk with you," creating a connection is essential to their well-being. And that connection requires what professionals call "an arena of comfort"--a place where you and your child can relax and unwind. Research shows that there are certain times of day--the drive to school, dinnertime, or just before going to bed--when children tend to open up. Children whose parents are consistently around at one or more of those times tend to function better. Of course, children won't always want or need to talk, but having a meal together, for example, creates the opportunity for conversation.

Plan a family activity at the end of the week. A bike ride or visit to the zoo will give your children something fun to look forward to.

Get to know your children's social network. When your children have a circle of buddies who don't overlap with those at school, your children don't like school as well. Children who have friends and a teacher that they can talk to at school are more connected and emotionally well adjusted. Ask your son who talked with him at school today, and who's on his soccer team or in the chess club. Encourage your children to invite their school friends home. Make your house the place where children are comfortable hanging out or even talking to an adult. Or if you're going to the movies, ask your daughter which friend she would like to bring along.

Linda Bearinger is a professor in the School of Nursing and director of the University of Minnesota Center for Adolescent Nursing.

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