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Simplifying “Back to School” and Reducing Stress

canteris-hartley-2014Today’s guest newsletter article is from one of my colleagues, Canteris Hartley. We go all the way back to our homeopathic school days. We spoke recently and we both agreed, it’s wonderful to share a passion for homeopathy. All these years after graduating, we are both as enthused about homeopathy as when we first ‘discovered’ it!


A lot of parents and children are feeling “back to school” stress and chaos. It is an exciting time of the year, but it can also be a source of stress and overwhelm for some children, not only at the beginning of school, but even more so as this stress accumulates throughout the year. This stress can be a result of over-scheduling.  Some signs of stress from over-scheduling in children can be fatigue, anger, defiance, insomnia, forgetfulness, frequent colds and flues, temper tantrums, eating disorders, head and stomachaches, anxiety, depression and hyper-sensitivity.  One way to relieve stress is to simplify our children’s schedules and create rhythm.

Over-scheduling has become the new norm, so much so that we do not even relate to as over-scheduling. We are just busy and stressed and so are our children.  But if we were to sit down and really examine our children’s schedule and simplifying it in some way then their days and weeks could breath a little easier and bring more meaning and enjoyment to school and in their activities.  Not only that, there could be more room to spend with family ( assuming that Mom and Dad have simplified their schedules as well), for free play and getting to know oneself, rather than going from one activity to another, day after day.  As adults we need time to process our day, and children do as well for healthy development. The way that they do this is during free, imaginative play, at a time when nothing is scheduled, and also when they are not staring into a screen.  The saying, “less is more” has some truth here.  If we look at our children’s schedule of appointments, play dates and activities can we take away some things and create more space in their days and weeks?

How do we do this for our children when we feel that all these activities and school are needed and seemingly wanted? One way is to re-visit what our values are as a family. What did we envision our family’s days and weeks to be like?  If your family’s life does not look like what you intended, then it is time to make some changes.  Can you imagine, for example, spending week after week, year after year driving your child to soccer practice and games only to find out after, that they didn’t really like soccer?! The area’s that come up as a feeling of “dissatisfaction” are most likely the areas where change is most needed and a good place to start (if you are feeling over-whelmed on how to simplify).  Some of these changes can be as simple as riding a bike to school rather than driving, choosing just one extra-curricular activity a school term rather than two or three, or taking a break from all extra-curricular activities for a term, having only one play date a week, having a special day or evening on the weekend that the family spends together, not rushing, just doing “nothing” (not in front of a screen) and seeing how the time together unfolds.

As adults we are aware that if we try to focus on too many things at once then the quality of our work and connection to it falters, not to mention it becomes overwhelming and not enjoyable.  It is the same for our children.  What is your child’s favorite activity and what would it be like for him or her to just focus on that one activity and see how far and deep they can go with it?  Often great inspiration and connection come when the mind is relaxing and seemingly unfocused.  These spaces between our activities that can bring us our deepest connection to what we do or allow us to discover what direction we really want to go.  If our children are allowed to experience this in their schedules while growing up, then as adults they will know themselves better and be able to feel more connection to what they choose to endeavor in the world.

The other area that can relieve stress is creating rhythm.  Having our lives predictable for ourselves and our children brings a sense of security and ease to what we do.  We are surrounded by rhythm in nature with the rising and setting of the sun each day and the seasons.  If we can create rhythm in our family life it can greatly relieve stress for both our children and us.  Having dinner together at the same time each night, or Saturday nights as family night or Wednesday nights as pasta night are ways of creating rhythm.  For the younger ones a regular bedtime and mealtimes are essential to feeling rhythm and security.  Their little biological rhythms lend well to this as they are too young to conceive which day of the week it is or that 7pm on the clock is bedtime.  This makes it easier for them to orient themselves throughout the days and weeks.   In turn you will notice them to be calmer, are better able to play, make transitions and bedtime becomes much easier as well!

For those children who suffer from disorders such as ADD, ADHD, OCD, and learning challenges, for example, simplifying can bring relief for them and can bring these disorders down to a more manageable level.

It is wonderful to be engaged in life and activities, but there is a point where it becomes too much and imbalanced.  To quote, “There is always enough time to do the important things”. You will know that it is too much for you and your children if you and they do not feel a sense of connection, contentedness, ease and joy to your days. To begin the process of discovering what is right for your children and your family life, is to begin to simplify in any way that you can.

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