Back to School

Where did the summer go? How can it be time for school!?!

Heading back to school can be a stressful time for children and parents alike. While most of us look forward to our children returning to school, it is still a time of transition and each year brings new challenges. Family life is again organized around school–getting everyone up and out of the house on time, helping with homework, getting kids to afterschool activities… These responsibilities large and small can feel overwhelming at times. It doesn’t quite seem fair that it isn’t enough to remember where each member of the family is supposed to be at a given moment (or at least have a good guess)–we also have to learn new math?!? Our kids often don’t make life easier–they are worried about what the new year will bring and this can cause some challenging behaviors at home.

Long story short, returning to school can cause stress. Fortunately/unfortunately endless summer is not a viable option, so how do we deal with it?

It may sound obvious, but the most important thing is to acknowledge our stress and talk about it with our kids. Witnessing us “stress out” can be confusing to our children as they look to us for information on how to interpret and deal with school situations. The “parenting experts” tell us we should remain calm with neutral facial expressions/word choices at all times. I don’t know about you, but my word choices tend to be anything but calm and well thought out when we are running 15minutes late and there is not a matching pair of shoes to be found in the house. Luckily, it is healthy for children to see us trying to cope with stress, but it is good to (later on, when things are clamer) offer an explanation on why you reacted the way you did.

As parents, we should give the message that stress is manageable. “If we feel like we have to constantly protect our children from seeing us sad, or angry, or anxious we are subtly giving our children the message that they don’t have permission to feel those feelings, or express them, or manage them.” Soo… the bright side is that getting ready for school gives us lots of opportunities to work with our kids to develop strategies to manage stressful situations!

While experts suggest, “the morning preparations should not be one big frantic hassle…” this sounds like an impossible dream for many of us. However, there are some things we can do to make our reality a little closer to this dream. The first week is an opportunity to set the standard for the year- clothes set out the night before, lunches packed, and your alarm set to allow for extra time for a calm, unhurried breakfast.

Here is some helpful advice:

Try to establish a routine immediately, this will help the entire family feel more in control.

Transition gently- don’t suddenly end morning reading/playtime, or suddenly demand lots more attention to dressing and grooming.

If you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed try to take a quick break and choose your battles- its OK if your child has to buy lunch at school, if his socks are mismatched, or if he/she chooses to wear the most worn pants in the closet (remember the rule is safe, not necessarily adorable).

Expect that everyone will need a little extra patience and a few extra hugs.

Try to find a support system of friends, relatives, or neighbors. They can be a good sounding board and can sometimes be back-up assistance when the needs do become impossible.

Remember–when you talk to a friend or relative whose children are grown,and they say they don’t remember ever having a stressful transition to school – years of severe sleep deprivation has obviously clouded their memory!