Back to School Doesn't Have to Mean Back to Chaos
The lazy, hazy days of summer are coming to a close. Thoughts once again turn to books, backpacks and busy lives.
Monarch Behavioral Health Therapists Jude Johnson, MA, LMFT, and Dr. Karen Holst, LCSW, Ed.D., both are therapists, meditation teachers and parents. They attest that heading back to school can bring a variety of emotions for both children and parents.
Children of all ages returning to the classroom, from pre-school through college, may feel a little overwhelmed as a new academic year appears on the horizon. Going back to school can be an exciting time that brings changes and new adventures.
Here are some tips that Holst and Johnson suggest while settling back into the school year.
Establish A Schedule
Summer’s relaxing pace may be replaced by a hectic school year schedule, but Holst suggests coming up with a before- and after-school agenda assisting both parents and children: “Parents, you are kind of going into the unknown. You know that your lives are going to be busier, so how do you best prepare for that?”
In the case of homework, determine when the most productive time will be for your child and go with that, Holst suggests, noting that this provides structure and expectations for the after school or evening hours. “We can’t control what the year is going to bring, but we can control what our schedule looks like,” she says.
Maintaining an after-school schedule is a great way to be able to keep doing those summer activities that you may have enjoyed. Holst encourages parents to maintain family time such as walks after dinner or whatever group activity the children have come to know as part of their regular routine.
Be Creative in Asking, “How was your day?”
Johnson advises open-ended questions that emphasize sharing positive experiences such as, “What was something good that happened in your day?” rather than the often-used, “How was your day?”
Some children may not be inclined to detail their day after hours spent in the classroom. Johnson recommends telling your children that you are happy to see them: “This brings presence into parenting instead of a transactional feel that can happen with questioning.”
“A lot of times, kids don’t want to talk and need a buffer period. Instead of inundating them with a lot of questions, say how great it is to see them. This may invite them to open up a bit better,” Johnson adds.
Prepare and Discuss Expectations
The school year tends to go smoother when everyone's expectations are understood. Johnson points out that a review of what the teacher is looking for from their students can be helpful. Having these discussions ahead of time is helpful for all grades, but especially beneficial when transitioning from one school to another such as heading into middle or high school.
Ensuring that your child sees the school ahead of time, like during orientation day typically held prior to the first day, can be beneficial. Holst says this type of personal visit allows parents and children to see locations and procedures firsthand, as well as meet their new teacher. “This can help alleviate some of the nervousness,” notes Holst.
Johnson says children’s emotions about the upcoming school year can range from excitement to apprehension. “Ask your child what they are excited about for the upcoming school year. Ask them what their goals are,” he urges. “Do they have any concerns about the upcoming school year or something they may be worried about?”
Your children need to know that it is safe to express their feelings, Johnson advises. “It is often helpful for parents to tell their children about their own school experiences to normalize their feelings and reassure them that they too will be able to overcome obstacles just as you did,” he says.
Involve Your Child in Decision-Making
Although not practical in all instances, Holst suggests involving your child in the decision-making by allowing them to have control of basic decisions such as whether to pack or buy lunchtime meals, or a designated time to complete homework and other tasks.
“Children are more likely to adapt if they are part of the deciding process,” Johnson adds.
Help Reduce Stress with Preparation
Discussions prior to school beginning about what is needed to prepare is a great place to start. Whether it is school supplies, clothes or their bedroom organization, preparation can help not only at the beginning, but throughout the school year, Holst says.
Holst explained that small acts like deciding the night before what to wear in the morning can save a potential problem when time is limited. “Planning out the week in regard to clothing, lunches and schedules, will help take some of the pressure off,” says Johnson of those hectic morning routines.
Of course, the school year is bound to bring some stressful situations for both parents and children in which mindfulness might assist. Holst and Johnson are both advocates for the benefits of mindfulness in reducing and managing stress, incorporating the practice when advising the people we support.
Mindfulness is defined as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” (mindful.org)
Johnson said if you are using a deep breathing exercise to help calm yourself during times of stress, then make sure your child sees you utilizing those techniques and tell them why you are doing it.
“Remember that what you say to your children impacts them a lot less than what you act out or do,” reminds Johnson.