It’s that time of year again when our kids go back to school. Summer vacation is over, and now children go to bed a bit earlier (hopefully!), strap on their backpacks, and head to the classroom. This causes a huge change in family life and can definitely can bring stressors for parents and kids alike. And while it may be fun for them to see their friends again, adjusting to after-school activities, homework, and new responsibilities can be difficult. This is especially true when hitting major milestones, such as first grade or the start of middle or high school. Here are some strategies to help families make the back-to-school transition:
Set Routines In Place
I can’t overstate the importance of routines. Especially coming out of summer, kids need a bedtime and also can benefit from a goodbye routine in the mornings. For the little ones especially, having structure in place can relieve any confusion or stress they might feel, and routines help parents adjust to the change as well.
Be Tender and Tough
When children go back to school, they may be so overwhelmed by the newness of it all that they try to find a way out. Be sure to give nurture and love to them while validating their experience, but be careful not to enable or indulge them. We of course shouldn’t have an attitude of, “suck it up!” but neither should we say things like, “okay, you can stay home with me today.” Let’s find that middle ground and be tender but firm in our expectations for our kids. An example of being tender and “tough” is saying, “I know this is a scary and stressful change and you want to stay home today. However, you need to go into your class right now because school is starting. I will be here when it is time to pick you up” give a quick hug and hand them off (sometimes literally) to their teacher.
“Check In” With Your Child
Depending on their age and ability to tolerate change, children can really benefit from parents asking not just the obvious questions (“how was school?” or “who are your new teachers?“), but also inquiring about how they feel about it all. Give them space to express their emotions; their excitement, confusion, fear, or whatever else they’re experiencing. Remember that although starting school might not sound like that big of a deal to us adults, to these kids it’s their whole world, and it can be really good for them to talk things out. My favorite way of doing this is a “peach-pit talk”. Ask your child to tell you about something that made them feel warm and fuzzy and also to tell you about something that felt difficult or hard. Our job isn’t to fix the hard parts but to help you child feel understood so they can figure out the best thing to do. You might try saying, “Wow, that sounds really tough. I am sorry you had to go through that today. What do you think needs to happen to change this hard part”?
Don’t Make It About You
The back-to-school blues are a real thing-parents and kids can definitely experience sadness. While you as the adult may feel a bit blue because you’ll no longer have as much time with your children as you did in the summer, be sure to not burden them with your experience. They’re going through enough change already; they shouldn’t have to console their crying mother or father! Work through your feelings on your own or with a spouse or partner, or call your therapist if it feels too big. These changes can bring up a lot of our own unresolved history with how hard the changes were that we experience in today’s life as well as growing up. Remember that kids feed off of their parents emotions, so if you’re nervous, they will be too!