A Back-to-School Essential: A Deep Breath

By: Elaine Vallario

Each year, we make a checklist for the upcoming school year. This year is no different, only you should add one more item under the 12-pack of number two pencils – a self-care strategy for yourself.

Take in a deep breath, followed by a slow exhale. Did you notice your chest rise and fall? Now, try it again, only this time, fill your abdomen with air until it noticeably expands. Then let the breath out slowly and enjoy the subtle wave of relaxation. This may already be a daily practice if you are one of the millions who subscribe to a meditation app. But what does indulging in a deep belly breath and an ever so brief mindful moment have to do with preparing your child for a new year of school? Well, more then you may realize. It has been found that parents who are equipped with coping strategies themselves can better help their children manage anxious thoughts and responses1. Just by practicing simple mind-body calming strategies such as abdominal breathing, meditation, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation, you are modeling stress and anxiety management for your child as you both face an unprecedented shift in your child’s educational environment.

According to studies from Duke Center for Child and Family Policy, children who can regulate their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors have a higher level of academic success and social-emotional health2. Because children rely on their caregivers for security and reassurance, your child’s best mentor for learning these skills is you. Think of yourself as a coach, by championing your child’s strengths and teaching supportive coping skills to calm the nervous system, you are increasing his or her capacity for growth. Your training sessions can be as simple as a daily check-in with your child. This one-on-one time should provide an honest, secure, and predictable environment. It also requires full engagement, which means switching off cell phones and other electronic devices. This safe space allows room for flexibility in turning challenges into opportunities, introduction of coping strategies, and offering positive reassurance, authentic connection, and trust will blossom. By investing daily time with your child, you are communicating, “I see you, I hear you, I believe in you, and I am here to support you.”

Sustaining this warm, responsive relationship at home will boost your child’s confidence in navigating other relationships and in the new situations and environments he or she will face in the school year ahead. Also, encouraging adequate sleep, a healthy diet, a daily dose of fresh air and exercise, an outlet for creativity, a focus on safety rather than fear, and limiting exposure to media messages will benefit both you and your child. Now, exhale, make positive memories, soak in the moments of joy, and give yourself grace.

1.Lebowitz ER, Marin C, Martino A, Shimshoni Y, Silverman WK. Parent-Based Treatment as Efficacious as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Childhood Anxiety: A Randomized Noninferiority Study of Supportive Parenting for Anxious Childhood Emotions. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2020;59(3):362-372. doi:10.1016/j.jaac.2019.02.014

2.Rosanbalm, K.D., & Murray, D.W. (2017). Caregiver Co-regulation Across Development: A Practice Brief. OPRE Brief #2017-80. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, US. Department of Health and Human Services.

Elaine Vallario works in a public school district and holds a MS in Mental Health and Wellness. She strives to support and promote social emotional wellness and development in her community and local schools.

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