It still feels like summer outside, but the evening air is starting to bring hints of fall, and a new school year is about to begin. It’s time to gear up and get ready! Heading back to school can be a tricky transition for both students and parents–here are a few tips for smooth sailing this September.
(Please note: I use plural pronouns in my writing in the spirit of gender inclusivity.)
Have Flexible Expectations. The transition back to school can be rocky. Your child will likely be more tired than usual, and they may also be less resilient and have a harder time regulating their emotions. Be prepared for more meltdowns in the first weeks of the school year, but be assured that they will ease up as the school year gets underway. For some students, however, the opposite is true: they start the school year with high energy, confidence, and good moods, and then as the work ramps up and the novelty wears off, stress and fatigue set in. Both scenarios are perfectly normal, so try to go with the flow and be flexible with your expectations as your child’s mood and energy fluctuate over the course of the school year.
Set up Structure. Establishing routines around schedules, homework, and materials will make it easier for everyone to get back into the rhythm of the school year. You can support your child by setting up a quiet space for them to do their work, helping them organize their materials, and being consistent with meals and bedtime. As you decide what routines will work best for your family, it is important to honor each child’s unique needs. Give them a chance to chime in, and be careful not to impose upon them what works best for you. Every child has different needs, so collaborate and experiment until you find options that work well for your child. Keep in mind that their needs may change over the course of the school year. Be prepared to adjust and adapt as you go.
Dig into Downtime. Everyone needs time to decompress and let their body and brain relax. Instead of rushing into homework at the end of the school day, encourage your child to take a walk, listen to some music, or engage in another relaxing activity when they get home. Doing so will improve their focus and make their work time more productive. Teaching your child mindfulness skills will also help them identify when they are feeling anxious, tired, or overwhelmed and need to shift gears and take a break to relax and refocus.
Create Open Communication. As much as you might be eager for an update on their day as soon as your child gets home, they might need some time and space before they are ready to talk. When you sense an opening, try some alternatives to “how was your day?” Ask open-ended questions, such as, “When were you happiest today?”, “What was the funniest thing that you saw today?”, “What rule was difficult to follow today?”, “How did someone help you today?”, and “How were you kind today?”. And when your child shares, strive to listen more than you talk, as this will encourage continued open communication and sharing.
Address Problems Early. When difficulties arise, the “wait and see” approach can give your child a chance to work out their own problems and gain confidence in their skills. That said, it is also important to be proactive in seeking additional support for your child when needed. Be in regular contact with your child’s teachers and guidance counselors, and alert them early on when your child experiences setbacks. If the challenges continue, line up academic and social-emotional support before your child’s confidence plummets. It is much easier to back off of additional supports if your child is feeling successful than it is to bolster a child in crisis. (And if you aren’t sure which approach is warranted, you can always contact us for a parent coaching session!)
While this time of year might feel especially challenging, parenting can be stressful and unpredictable year-round; as you think about supporting your child with the back-to-school transition, keep in mind that these tips apply to you too! Be flexible with your expectations for yourself, establish routines that work well for you, prioritize your own downtime, communicate your needs, and ask for support before your need for it becomes critical. Following these tips will not only help your own moods, energy, and effectiveness as a parent, but you will also be modeling good habits and self-care for your child, who is learning just as much from you at home as they are in school.
Best of luck with the start of the school year. Keep in touch and let us know how it goes!
Eliza Wagner Srestha