As we inch closer to the start of the school year, I can already hear the cries of parents and the moans from students.
The stress, anxiety and overwhelm teens experience from struggling to understand the content, feeling terrified of, or hating a teacher, the social anxiety and managing relationships, and the weight of expectations to perform and achieve to feel like enough or valuable is too much. So why bother?
For parents it’s the nagging to wake your teen up and leave the house on time, keeping up multiple schedules and commitments, wondering if your teen will get scurvy because of their atrocious eating habits, anticipating shaming emails about skipped classes or missed assignments and the worst of all, the mental health struggle when they decide they aren’t going to school and just don’t care.
UGH! The struggle is real.
School is one of the biggest topics and struggles I’m asked about so I put together my top 12 tips for back to school success to help you thrive this year, rather than just survive.
No time to read? Watch the video here.
1. Time management
The teen brain lacks regulation and social media/gaming was intended to lull them into hours of use. That makes them normal, not irresponsible!
Using external cues like a stove timer or alarm clock to interrupt their zone out so they change their body state by standing up to turn the alarm off, (phone alarms won’t work!) shifts their brain state, supporting switching to a different activity. Don’t set the timer or turn it off for them! Empower and equip your teen to complete this themselves.
2. The 5-minute rule
If your teen struggles with procrastination or gets down on themselves when starting a homework task, break it down into small bites. The issue is often starting the task, so this helps them over that initial hump. Use a timer and celebrate each 5-minute increment to build their esteem and confidence without triggering more anxiety.
3. Expectations and motivation
You can’t motivate your teen. Full stop. It’s an inside process only they can muster. When you try, it turns to expectations (imposing your idea of success onto your teen) and sound like this to your teen: “My love is conditional, and I only love you if you perform well enough to make me look like a good parent.” Although unintended, that increases anxiety, overwhelm and lowers confidence. Encouraging who they are–their character, their attitude, and their efforts—rather than external measures like grades.
4. Be your teen’s ally
If your teenager is acting out or losing focus in school, get curious and ask, “Tell me what’s going on for you”, or “Help me to understand” and listen without interruption. Then move to advocacy with, “How can we help this work for you?, Do you need help asking the teacher?, Would a tutor help?, Would it help you to work in a different room?” It’s all about using compassion rather than critisism.
5. The 50/10 focus strategy
If your teen has a lot of work to get through, try suggesting the 50/10 rule: they work for 50 minutes, then take a 10 minute break. In that break, get up, eat a snack, use the bathroom, talk to a friend, etc. Physical movement helps clear out and reset the brain for the next 50 minute period. This rule can help improve focus and encourage teens to tackle large tasks more easily with less overwhelm.
6. Best/worst case scenario
If your teen is experiencing social anxiety or catastrophizing about something in their life, the best thing you can do is listen (for more information, join my FREE 10 Day Listening Challenge). Listen without downplaying their story as overdramatic or sensitive. Unfold their fears with, “Wow, yeah that’s terrible. I totally get it. What else?” Remember, you don’t have to agree to empathize! Then, ask them to spell out the worst case scenario for the situation they’re in. What would that look like? Next, ask for the best case scenario. Finally, ask, “What do you think is most probable?” This exercise helps their brain work through the problem and create perspective without feeling judged.
If your teen is feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork, have them write down every homework assignment on a sheet of paper. Next, draw a column and write out a realistic amount of time to complete each task. Then create a third column where they’ll write when each assignment is due. This third column is the key for many teens to effectively prioritize their list of tasks and reduce overwhelm.
If your teen struggles with anxiety, one of the best things to help can be preparation. This can look like putting their backpacks out the night before school, planning their outfit ahead of time, or even talking through tomorrow’s schedule. If there’s a school change, attend an open house before the first day, meet their teachers and see what their classroom will look like. Let your teen lead as to what feels right for them or this can increase anxiety.
Let this be the year that your teen makes their own lunch! This will help them build self-esteem and independence and gives them a sense of ownership and accomplishment every day. It doesn’t have to be another stressor for your teen—instead of doing it during the chaos of the morning, teach them to make their lunch the night before, or after dinner when the food is already out.
Teenagers require between 8-10 hours of sleep a night for their brain to operate effectively. The problem is, their circadian rhythm shifts by about two hours, so oftentimes they don’t even get sleepy until midnight and have difficulty waking up early. Try slowing limiting WiFi and access to certain apps after a certain hour. Have a compassionate conversation with your teen, talk about the science and how you’re approaching this to find solutions together. This is hard for them too so be patient.
11. No micromanaging!
When you micromanage your teenager, you’re telling them they’re not smart o capable enough to accomplish something on their own, or at least to do it your way. Get curious about your own fears of “what if” that drives your behavior. Take your foot off the gas a bit. Better yet, get out of the driver’s seat and let your teen take the wheel every once and a while (metaphorically of course). Empower them to grow, fail and succeed knowing you love them unconditionally.
12. Celebrate small wins!
Celebrate every single win, no matter how small. If your teen uses the 5 minute rule and stops after the first five minutes, celebrate them! Just don’t be inauthentic about it because teenagers can smell that from a mile away. Remember, raising a teenager is an emotional process, not just a behavioral one. Celebrating success on their terms reinforces you’re proud of them, builds confidence and self-esteem.
If back to school is definitely NOT the most wonderful time in your house and you’ve already tried all the things to light a fire under your teen, I’m here to help. By clicking below to schedule your one-on-one Zoom call with me, you’ll 1) feel seen and heard in your current frustration, feeling at your wits end and out of options 2) leave with a recording of the call and personalized strategies to change the negative patterns school presents so can make this year different for both of you.
You’re worth it. Click below to schedule your session now.
Parenting is hard. You don’t have to do it alone.