Stephanie Owen, LMFT
The beginning of a new school year brings a lot of challenges and adjustments --- new teachers, different class schedule, and new school demands. This can be one of the most stressful times of the year for parents, and even more so for your children. Planning, preparing and patience are the keys to a better and more manageable back-to-school transition.
Here’s a quick round-up of effective tips for a smooth start to the school year:
1. Bedtime is quite a big deal.
Children thrive when they consistently get enough sleep. When children don’t sleep enough, it makes it harder for them to control their emotions. The problem most parents have is how to help them sleep. One way you can do this is to ensure a predictable bedtime routine by making it a priority. Preschool-aged children should be getting about 10-13 hours of sleep, school-aged children (6-13 years old), 9-11 hours, and teens, at least 8-10 hours. Regular activity every night signals their body to slow down and prepare for a restful sleep. Turn off all overly stimulating activities like gadgets and toys (tablets, smartphones, video games). Encourage quiet activities instead, such as books, calming music and podcasts: Storynory - stories, such as myths, original stories and poems, Bedtime History - inspirational and educational stories, and Peace Out - relaxation and mindfulness stories.
2. Make a positive morning habit.
Creating a checklist of tasks with your children on what to do from the time they wake up time to the time they leave makes a big difference. Getting your children involved instills the value of responsibility for them early on AND reduces overall stress because you’re working together, instead of against each other. Most importantly, find a time to connect and bond each day. It takes as little as 10 minutes to make an impact. You can have a quick chat at breakfast reminiscing on a favorite time together or sharing excitement about what is coming up. For younger kids, a cuddle while dressing them up or ask them to help you prepare or make something will create connection, too. Turn off all sources of distraction (you will get to those emails as soon as you get to work, I promise!) and focus on your child knowing this will make a lasting change.
3. Get organized ahead of chaos.
Plan ahead. Introduce a daily routine with as little as 15 minutes each night planning and preparing for the next day. A checklist will be helpful to begin with until the essential steps become a habit. For younger kids, you can create a visual board of the to-do’s with drawn pictures or photos from a magazine of each morning and afternoon task. A family calendar is helpful to track academic and extracurricular school activities, as well family plans. Downloadable apps, like My Study Life and Time Tree, have shareable access to make sure no one misses out.
4. Watch out for back-to-school anxiety.
Most children are excited to start a new school year, while some can be nervous and dread it leading to draining energy and increasing anxiety. Reasons may vary from separation anxiety, bullying, and perfectionism, to name a few. Allow your children to talk about their anxiety -- and no, it will not get worse if you talk about it. Listen and normalize what they’re going through by sharing a time when you felt similarly. They will likely feel relieved and less alone. If they’re open to hearing solutions, give them the tool of square breathing, which is a helpful strategy to focus on their breath and stay grounded throughout the day. It’s easy to do: Make a square in the air or on paper. Trace one side of the box and breathe in for 4 seconds, continue to trace the other side of the box and breathe for 4 seconds, and continue again for the other two sides. Practice it with them, too!
5. After-school routines make a huge difference.
It is important to discuss after-school routines that work for your children. Ideally, it’s best to have a quiet area at home with a comfortable study table and chair in a well-lit space that’s personalized and inviting for them to want to use. Bring in bright colors, pegboards for organizing, and all the supplies needed for them to feel equipped and look forward to their after school routine. What other ideas do your children have to create their space?
6. Parent-Teacher relationship is crucial.
School is your child’s second home. It is crucial for parents to build strong relationships with teachers. Work with your teachers to help them understand your child’s unique personality, strengths, talents, and interests as their learning patterns emerge. Just like all relationships, they take time to build. Similarly, your parent-teacher relationship won’t happen overnight. It is built with constant communication, collaboration and shared goals.
What else would you add to this list? Share comments below, we’d love learn how else you’re creating a smooth and stress-free back-to-school transition. Share with others and tag a friend who could use this, too!