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Have you got BTSS? (‘back-to-school stress’)

The start of a new term can be more stressful for parents than for kids. Our tips will help you soften the return to normality


t’s probably the end of week one of the back-to-school/work routine, and it feels like 10 years since you were shaking Spanish sand out of your sandals, not 10 days. You’re all struggling to get up in the mornings, tempers are frayed (mainly yours, what with the familiar chorus of, ‘Mum, WHERE ARE MY SHOES?’) and you’d like to ignore that unloaded dishwasher and go back to bed. Sound familiar? Don’t worry – we’ve got some simple solutions to help sort the most stressy scenarios.

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    The uniforms bought in July don't fit any more

    The warm glow of smugness you basked in seven weeks ago has turned into tears and tantrums (mainly from you) as you try to shoehorn your kids into clothes that are already too small. ‘When buying uniforms, it’s best not to peak too early,’ says children’s fashion stylist and blogger Becky John. ‘Bear in mind that kids can go up a couple of sizes over the summer. But neither do you want to be frantically shopping in September, when lots of items may be out of stock. August is an ideal time to hit the shops, while everyone’s away on their summer holidays.’

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    Everyone’s had their breakfast – except you!

    You’ve made four different meals this morning… but nothing for yourself. And now there’s an ominous rumbling in your tum as you sit at the fifth set of red traffic lights. Boots nutritionist Vicky Pennington recommends keeping some ‘go-to’ food options with you. ‘A healthy breakfast can help top up vital nutrients to set you up for the day,’ she says. ‘But if you often find you’re low on time, make sure you’ve always got portable snacks to hand, such as dried fruit and nuts – something you can keep and forget about until you need it.’ Time to stock up.

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    You’ve forgotten what it’s like to ask for something once

    Five requests for them to put their shoes on, four calls to get in the car and seven appeals for them to stop arguing. You’ve repeated yourself so much that you’re starting to lose your voice. ‘Accept the fact that they don’t share your priorities,’ advises psychologist Emma Kenny. ‘When you ask them to do something, try following three steps. First, get them to engage with you: make sure they stop and look you in the eye. Second, compromise: give them a few minutes’ countdown. Third, offer an alternative: if, for instance, they don’t want to turn off the TV, say you can play a game on the way to school instead.’

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    The school-gate panic becomes a daily thing

    Yep – they’ve waited until you’re about to drop them off to reveal the fact that they don’t have their PE kit/family tree for show-and-tell. Again. The solution? It might sound obvious, but even World Memory Championship silver medallist Michael Tipper†† says that checklists are a must. ‘Ahead of time, write down everything you need to achieve that day, and cross off each item as it gets done,’ he suggests. ‘Another way to help you remember things is to establish a good morning routine. Regular patterns become hard-wired into a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which means that they can then happen automatically, without conscious thought. So it could be that while they brush their teeth, you pack the car with gym kits, lunch boxes and so on. Whatever works for you.’

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    You’re irrationally jealous of anyone who doesn’t have to do the school run

    Sure, mornings might be chaos, but try not to wish them away too quickly. ‘Every day, remind yourself that there will be a “last time” for everything,’ suggests Emma. ‘A last time they’ll ask you to do their laces, a last time they’ll want to hold your hand, a last time they’ll not be embarrassed to kiss you at the gate… Try to find something to cherish every week.’ Parenting expert and author Tanith Carey agrees: ‘Childhoods are short. From birth to the age of 12, we only have about 4,380 days with our kids. Yet sometimes we’re so busy focusing on the destination that we forget to enjoy the journey.’

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    Bedtime brain babble is stealing your sleep

    You find yourself lying awake thinking about emails you need to reply to, that load of washing you forgot to put on, and whether you’ve got enough cheese triangles for the lunch boxes tomorrow. ‘A flurry of random worries at night is a sign that you’re struggling to compartmentalise during the day,’ explains Emma. ‘But learning how to do this can reduce your worry levels and, by extension, help you sleep – because you’ll have trained your brain not to let in too many thoughts at once. So, stop multi-tasking during the day. If, for example, you’re cooking dinner, try to focus entirely on that – phones away, no emails. Practise being strict with what’s going on in your head: only allow in anything that relates to what you’re doing there and then. It’ll take work, but it’s worth it.’

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    Your weekend is spent delivering on bribes you resorted to during the week

    So far, you’ve promised a new iPad and a visit to Peppa Pig World just to get the kids breakfasted, dressed and on their way. ‘What children want most of all is your special, concentrated time – not necessarily treats,’ says Tanith. ‘It sounds corny, but they really do associate love with time spent with you. So stop dangling big bribes and concentrate on things you can do together that aren’t such a huge logistical – or expensive – commitment, such as playing a game or taking a trip to the park.’ See – money really doesn’t buy love.

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‘Around the last week of the holidays, I’ll get myself and my son, Michael, 4, used to being ready and out of the house at the time we’d need to for school, so it won’t come as such a shock to us. Even if that means leaving home at 8.30am to go to the park or a café, we’re up and dressed, with teeth brushed and a bag packed.’

Michelle Bourke, 40, a nurse from the West Midlands


‘During the last few weeks of the break, I’ll start talking about school with my sons, Beau, 8, and Lochlan, 6 – whether it’s which friends they’re looking forward to seeing, or their new teacher. It gets them back into the idea of a new term. Plus, during a day at the park in the holidays, they’re confident and comfortable enough to talk through any concerns they might have before the first morning back, when we’ll be in rush.’

Charmaine MacFarlane, 34, a beauty therapist from Angus


‘I’ve put some hooks at child height in our hallway for Molly, 2, and Sam, 5, and a bucket/trug under each one. Every night we hang their coats, scarves and hats on their pegs, and put their bags and shoes in the buckets. That way, there’s no scrabbling about for things in the morning. It saves lots of time.’

Jenny Wood, 40, stay-at-home mum from London


Expert Advice


Emma Kenny,


‘Avoiding a morning meltdown’

• ‘Planning is key during the morning rush. So sort out the uniforms the night before, and try to always keep milk, bread and packed-lunch ingredients in the fridge. Getting up just 20 minutes earlier than the children will mean you can shower, make a cuppa and compose yourself for the onslaught.


• If TV is part of your routine, make a rule that it doesn’t get turned on until they’ve eaten, dressed, brushed their teeth and packed their school bags. It shifts some of the responsibility to them, because something they want is at stake.


• Accept that things won’t always go to plan. Chances are, at some point you’ll be at school before they tell you it’s ‘own clothes day’. But accepting that the morning hasn’t gone to plan and putting it into a wider context (it’s not the worst thing that could happen) will help you move on. Devise a strategy as a family where you share responsibility for reminders. There are also apps where diaries can be synced, so if you have teenagers you’ll all know about one another’s meetings and school trips ahead of time.’

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*Available in selected stores and online from 18 September.

Emma is also CEO of ††For more info on improving your memory, go to


Words Clare O’Reilly Photography Getty Images, Pixeleyes


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