Back to school - the most stressful week for families

Is back to school week stressful?
Is back to school week stressful?
  • 52% of parents desperate for children to return to school while only 36% miss them
  • Over a quarter of mums are ‘under stress’, with 7% suffering eating issues to cope
  • Two in five children ‘worried or stressed’ before returning to school - with one in 20 showing physical symptoms

Back to School Week is the year’s single most stressful week for families, a new report from the UK’s biggest parenting site Netmums and ITV This Morning shows.

As children across the country start the new school year this week, more than half of parents (52%) say they actively look forward to their children going back - and only 36 per cent claim they miss them.

By contrast, the preparations for Back to School take a major toll on parents.

Almost a third of mums (26%) describe themselves as ‘under stress’, along with a quarter (25%) who lose sleep in the rush to get their children ready.

One in 20 mums pile on weight from comfort eating while one in 50 lose weight as they feel under pressure over the preparations. A further 23 per cent claim to shout and ‘be snappy’ much more than normal at their children during this week.

Children also suffer with two in five (39%) feeling ‘worried and stressed’ before they go back, along with one in 13 who refuse to sleep.

One in 20 (5%) even have physical symptoms including vomiting and stomach aches.

Is back to school week a nightmare? Do you find it stressful? Add your comments below.

Overall the biggest problem for families is the cost of Back to School.

While 95 per cent of the parents polled backed school uniforms, 47 per cent ‘struggle’ with the cost of buying it while a further one in nine families (11%) have been unable to afford all they need. One in ten per cent bought second hand while 13 per cent have relied on ‘hand me downs’ given free.

The problem has been exacerbated by schools using expensive ‘approved suppliers’, with 45 per cent of parents saying their school’s approved supplier is more expensive than a regular store.

Alongside the cost, a huge 56 per cent of families feel under additional stress resuming the busy morning routine to get children to school on time, while almost half (44%) worry about remembering everything they need to buy for back to school. Sewing and labelling items is an unwelcome chore for a third, while a quarter (23%) were worried about making healthy packed lunches for their child. One in seven mums (14%) even confess they are ‘worried’ about seeing other parents at the school gate again, with 11 per cent going as far as buying new fashion items for themselves and their children to look good on the school run.

The study also found parents spend an average of two hours every week on school administration - dubbed ‘schoolmin’, including filling in forms, washing and preparing sports kit and helping at school events. But 19 per cent spend five or more hours a week - equivalent to six and a half weeks work in a full-time job each year. Making costumes for school plays is the most hated schoolmin task, loathed by 29 per cent of mums, along with one in six who dislike washing sports kits (15%).

But once their child is back at school, the biggest parental fear is bullying. Three in five (59%) of mums worry their child could become a victim - with children now more likely to cover up how clever they are for fear of ‘brain shaming’, than be teased for not keeping up. Fourteen per cent of parents reported their child hides their academic achievements to try to fit in against just 12 per cent who are concerned their child could be picked on for not being smart.

Furthermore, more than half (58%) of parents worry about their child making friends while 23 per cent fret about playground pressure on their child to own gadgets and other material possessions. One in five (19%) was also concerned about peer pressure for their child to be cool.

Appearance is also a major trigger for parents concerns, with 16 per cent frightened their child could be picked on for how they look and one in ten worried that their child could suffer taunts about their weight.

Parents also overwhelmingly feel there is too much emphasis placed on exam results at their school. Two thirds (63%) said the pressure on their child is too great, with just seven per cent claiming their school does not do enough to promote exam results.

Alongside this, children appear to be getting homework at a younger age with the most common age to start receiving homework now in reception year aged just four. And one in nine (11%) of three year olds are even given homework in nursery.

However, the study showed parents are also broadly happy with their choice of school. The biggest change parents would like to see is smaller class sizes, backed by just under half (47%) of mums and dads. A third (28%) wished for music lessons at every age and 26 per cent wanted language lessons at every age. One in eight (12%) wanted a bigger playground and sports facilities. But while 14 per cent would like better discipline in their school, just one per cent thought their school was too tough on discipline.

Anne-Marie O’Leary, Netmums editor-in-chief said: “Coming at the end of six long weeks of holidays, back to school can be a flash point which may cause severe stress for some families. The financial costs can be crippling, especially for families with more than one child and those who have had to pay for extra childcare over summer. Plus the sheer scale of preparation and administration can take hours of time many mums simply don’t have spare. The tensions can make both children and parents ill, so it’s important to keep things in perspective.

“Starting school for the first time, or moving up to a new class, are all milestones that should be celebrated and enjoyed, not feared. And parents should try to enjoy the last few days with their children, as however stressed they feel now, they will miss them once they’re back to school.”

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