These four words can cause feelings of excitement, panic and terror for parents and children alike. As the lazy days of summer wind down there are some easy things that parents and caregivers can do to minimize the impact of some of these negative feelings for our little and even bigger children. Just because our children may be growing older, doesn’t mean the transition is any easier for them. In fact, some would argue with technology and the pressure from peers, that going back to school becomes only that much more challenging!
Look for non-verbal cues.
If your children are anything like mine, I can tell something is impacting them long before they are able to verbalize how they are feeling to me. Has their sleeping changed? Are they having stomach aches or headaches? Are they eating more or less? Are they acting out behaviourally, temper tantrums or responding out of character? Stress and anxiety can impact both the brain and body and when we pay attention we can often see the manifestation of these feelings in our children. Take a couple minutes to talk to your children and see what’s really going on beneath the surface, it also shows them you are available to listen!
Think ahead about routines and schedules.
With the end of summer comes a return to earlier bedtimes and earlier awake times. Teenagers often struggle more with this due to their increased need to sleep and often increased time with electronics over the summer. A useful tool is a simple calendar on the fridge to visually plan for transitions for sleep schedules, time for homework and time for electronics. Children often respond better when they are a part of the plan and know what to expect. Even adults typically respond better to predictability and can benefit from this!
Unstructured time is as important as schedules and routines.
Don’t forget to build in some unstructured time into your schedule. As parents and caregivers it can be easy to get sucked into the world of thinking ahead and planning out minute details of life. Children often complain of feeling over-scheduled with no time for play. Be mindful of extra-curricular activities that monopolize play time. It could be helpful to “schedule” in some family free time too, ideally electronic free. Nothing says you matter more to your children then having fun together as a family, however that looks, while being disconnected to the outside world, even if for a few hours!
Focus on the positive.
As much as we may be excited to be back to routines for our families, recognize that with a new school year comes a lot of other new things for students. New teachers, new classes and sometimes new friends in class can create a lot of stress and anxiety in our children. Children look up to the adults in their lives to model language and behaviour for them. While being aware of these changes, verbally encourage your children to think positively about new situations that may be anxiety producing for them. Remind them of previous situations that they have faced and successfully worked through! Consider play dates with new friends to build on friendships outside of the classroom.
Stay connected with the school and your child’s teacher
It’s important to stay in the loop on how they are managing at school and if any additional support is needed. Your child’s teacher is an amazing resource to share what they see both in the classroom and out on the schoolyard!