Back to school, back to school to prove to dad I’m not a fool!
Thanks, Adam Sandler!
Why Is It So Hard for All of Us to Make the Shift from Summer Back to School?
Transitions can be stressful and disruptive even if there is underlying excitement. There are usually mixed feelings about one season coming to a close. It is difficult to move from a time of less structure, lower expectations and responsibilities, and more freedom to the opposite. You want to be sympathetic to this in your kids, as well as yourself since it is an adjustment, physically and mentally, for everybody. The new structure of the day to day for the kids takes getting used to and parents may feel a sting of separation after a summer period of bonding and constant connective activities. Of course, there might be some relief as well!
Overall, there is an expected adjustment for everyone to the new normal that will be the next several months.
There Are Ways to Make the Transition Smoother for All Involved:
It Starts with Getting Back into Routines
A few weeks prior to the first day of school, start with sleep schedules. If your kiddos have been going to bed later, start having them go to sleep 10 minutes earlier each night until it’s the appropriate bedtime for school and start getting them up closer to the time they’ll need to wake up for school. With this, you’ll also want to make sure meal times are back on track.
Make Sure That Everyone Understands the Family Structure and Expectations
Hopefully, you haven’t strayed too far from that in the Summer, but sometimes families who have been more relaxed and flexible need a reset and to make sure everyone is on the same page about expectations and guidelines. This can include chores, screen time, family meals, where and when homework will be completed, etc. You’ll be thankful this has been decided and discussed as a family prior to the start of the school year. The key is to remain consistent with this.
For Parents/Adults, Make Sure You Are Also Being Mindful of Your Own Daily Structure
You want to make sure you have self-care activities in place. It’s imperative to take care of yourself and maintain your own identity outside of running your kids around and keeping their schedules. If you are balanced and managing things well, the kids will also feel that and it will provide an increased sense of security and stability. Learn how to manage your own anxiety and seek support around any particular triggers, whether it’s balancing schedules, carpool, homework battles, etc. Also, be sure to not project your own experience with school or friendships onto your kids.
What Kinds of Things Should We Be Aware of in the Early Stages of Transitioning Back to School and Also Throughout the Year to Ensure That Our Kids Are Thriving?
Just as you want to manage any of your own anxiety as it can have a trickle down effect and fuel that of your kids, try to be attuned to any stressors or anxieties in your kids. Some anticipatory anxiety is normal, but be tuned in to when it’s less general nervousness and perhaps starts impacting your kiddo’s functioning. Help your child name their apprehension to normalize it and brainstorm with them ways to feel more calm or connected. And then practice these with them!
Be on the lookout for increased resistance and pay attention to specifics—does your child’s anxiety peak or does their communication change when talking about getting out in the carpool line, walking into the classroom, at lunchtime, when seeing a group of friends? If you can pinpoint certain stressors, you can ask open-ended questions to prompt exploration of what might be difficult about that scenario.
We always want to be aware of any changes in our kids’ patterns, whether it’s eating, sleeping, socializing, academically, etc. This is often our first indicator that something is off. It doesn’t always mean that, of course, but sometimes when kids don’t have the words or the insight around what they’re experiencing, it manifests through these behavioral changes.
For example, If a kid is the victim of bullying or relational aggression here are some changes you might see: he starts acting clingier and doesn’t want you to leave him at school, he starts to withdraw or not enjoy his usual activities, he may be moody or acting anxious or depressed, he may complain of physical pain (headaches, stomachaches), he may suddenly have difficulty sleeping or a decreased appetite. These unexpected changes are our openings as parents to say hey, something is different, let’s talk about it.
Of course, some of this behavior is quite normal in adolescents, but we need to pay extra attention if the following two things occur:
- There is a persistent change from your kid’s normal baseline and
- There is impairment in your kid’s functioning (socially, occupationally, educationally)
How Can We, as Parents, Help?
1. Even though things are busier, still look for time to connect 1:1 with your kid. A great bonus to keeping these activities includes being able to gauge any changes and to keep the communication lines open. Know your child’s communication style (you have a feel for when they’re the least resistant to talking– in the car, over dinner, in their room before bed) and have a consistent time that you check in with them. Doesn’t always have to be questions and answers, but space where they can share their highs and lows of the day, worries, etc.
2. Model confidence, comfort, flexibility, and emotional regulation.
3. Teach and practice coping skills for nerves or anxiety with your kids or seek out people who can help with these normal emotional experiences.
4. Stay in contact with teachers as appropriate. You know your child better than anyone, so partner with your child’s teacher and tell them about the type of kid you have so they can best foster that in the classroom and so they will stay in touch with you if they notice anything.
5. Understand that your kids are learning social skills, mastery, and success, how to foster relationships, how to make mistakes and fail and all of that is necessary for the development of their self-image. Of course, you want to assure they’re being set up for the best possible chance of success and navigating their life transitions well. This doesn’t mean hovering, just being aware and providing a landing spot for them as needed. There’s a difference. If you feel your kiddo needs assistance with social skills, self-esteem, or managing emotions, seek professional support from a mental health counselor.