By Trish Brix-Baskin, LCSW

Ah, a new school year. Some kids are excited to go, while others might be lamenting the end of summer or even be a little scared about the upcoming change. I remember those days as nerve-wracking, but still hopeful that things would not be as bad as I feared. Whatever the emotions, thoughts, and behaviors surrounding those first few weeks of school, one thing is constant for just about every parent and child at this time of year—stress.

Maybe you are a parent with multiple children, each one involved in numerous activities. Sports, after-school clubs, musical pursuits, high-level academic classes, volunteering, or religious activities all seem to vie for children’s attention, especially when the family is faced with the decision of how many and what to choose.

Whatever the specific events or obligations your family decides upon, one thing is clear—time is a valuable commodity.

It seems nearly impossible to slow things down and find time to rest, relax, and just be a family together. But even in this fast-paced world of the Internet, school, extracurricular activities, friends, and everything else clamoring for your time, it is still vitally important to take care of yourself and your family’s health.

Especially in the therapeutic world, the term “self care” is tossed around a lot without much explanation. Most people think of hygiene, exercise, getting enough sleep, and eating right when they are asked if they care for themselves. And yes, that is one type of self-care—the physical kind.

There is, however, more to the idea than that. Ask yourself how is your mood on a daily basis? Do you find yourself or your children are easily irritated, grumpy, or sad? Are you and your children worrying a lot? What activity is the most fun you do in a typical week?

All the structured activities offered by a school, community, or religious organization in a child’s life are meant to improve, build up, and be helpful. Most are beneficial to both the child and the parent. They are, by their very make up and intention, good things. However, just like a favorite video game, toy, or event, these things are good in moderation. Too much of a good thing may lead to stress, worry, irritability, and feeling overwhelmed.

That’s where taking care of yourself and your family comes into play. The kind of self-care described in this article is emotional self-care.

Have you seen the Disney/Pixar movie Inside Out? It’s kind of like that, where we have to take an active role in maintaining our emotions. This is often the most overlooked type of self-care, especially in families, but just like the characters in the movie had to work together for a solution, so does a family.

Okay, so how does a parent take care of the family’s emotional health? Some ideas include a regular family meeting in which each member is heard and has a say in family life; limiting activities of the children so they can focus specifically on what they and their parents think are the most important; and mixing up activities between social and solitary so that children (and parents!) get the right mix of both. Make sure the routine varies little from week to week for consistency so even the children know what’s going to happen when, helping them feel more safe and secure.

Most importantly, at least in my opinion, is to make scheduled “family time,” preferably once a week. Family time consists of a block of time set aside, maybe an evening or a few hours on a weekend, in which the family spends quality time together doing something enjoyable—without screens. That means put away the phones, computers, tablets, and shut off the TV.

Be creative and have fun with this time. The kids can take turns deciding what to do for this time each week. Ideas include have a fun outing to the park or zoo, play a board game, or make and eat dinner together. The choices are endless and can be a lot of fun! Even teenagers (who will likely protest at first) have a need to spend quality time with family and will enjoy themselves—whether they admit it or not. The family will grow stronger as a unit and as individuals, which helps with handling stress.

Overall, even though this time of year can be extremely stressful and time consuming, please make sure you, as parents, relax and enjoy yourselves. More so when you are busy, the time will go by very quickly and one day in the future you will look back and wonder how it all got done. Just make sure to use your time in the best ways possible, which definitely includes having fun!

Trish Brix-Baskin is also clinical therapist with Pine Grove’s Outpatient Services serving adolescents and families who are dealing with substance abuse, as well as depression and anxiety-related disorders.