While children in many parts of the country have started school already, Seattle area families kick off the new school year this week. Parents are ready for a change. We have juggled work schedules, camp schedules and family vacations for over two months and can't imagine another day. Kids are ready, too. They may complain that summer went too fast, but often they are just as ready for the routine and structure of school as we are. If all of us feel ready, the transition back should be a piece of cake, right? Given the spike in requests for parent support I see each fall, my guess is this transition is often bumpier than expected.
Last year was filled with talk of leaning in, leaning out and shaking it all about. What if it wasn't all or nothing? What if we took a softer approach? Here are three tips for helping your family “Ease In” to the new school year:
1) Consider the first month a transition period.
Remember the last time you started a new job? Even if you had done the same job at another company, you have a new boss, a new work group and a whole list of new responsibilities and tasks. If you are like most, that first month was exhausting as you fluctuated between excitement and fear. The evenings were likely spent in a range of comforting activities to gear you up to face the next day.
This is what our children go through at the beginning of each school year! No wonder we see more meltdowns, problems falling asleep, problems getting up in the morning and a whole host of other behaviors that set off parental frustration and fears.
So, remind yourself daily that this is a transition period. It’s not the time to panic. Wait a month and see how things settle down as your child adjusts to the new normal. Showing compassion for your child and yourself will get you further than anything else during this transition.
2) Set up routines and plans with your child.
We are big fans of routine here at GROW Parenting. We are even bigger fans of routines and plans that are created WITH your child. Figuring out after-school routines, agreeing on bedtimes and planning for homework can all be done together.
Both of these posts discuss the ins and outs of how to do this as a family:
Added bonus: cooperation greatly increases when the person who has to do the task is involved in deciding how and when it should be done.
3) Take time for training.
As new responsibilities are added both at school and at home, be sure you child knows how to do what they are asked. Often times we see children resistant to doing something only to learn that deep down they are unsure of what to do or scared that they won’t be able to do it. Instead of expressing those concerns, we just get a big fat “NO.”
We may believe our child is capable of completing a task, and feel both frustrated and annoyed that they are not doing it. What matters, though, is if our children believe they are capable. If resistance seems to be happening with a new task or responsibility, take time for training to ensure your child can move confidently into doing it for herself. This may look like doing it together a few times, and then standing by for moral support while they do it themselves a few times. Before you know it, their self-confidence grows and they are delighted with their new abilities and resist our help!
Easing in may just make the whole transition easier. While we may be eager to get back to the routine of the school year, if we push our own sense of urgency on to our children, we make the transition that much harder for the whole family. Take a deep breath, slow down and stay in touch with your child’s emotions, as well as your own. You and your child will be back in the swing of things before you know it.
Remind them that it is normal to feel a little out of sorts during transitions. Share with them how you felt when you started your last job and what you did to help yourself through the transition. Our children will find comfort in knowing they are not alone and that even their parents struggle sometimes. Your ability to model patience and acceptance during this time will go a long way to easing your family in to a fantastic new year.
Sarina Behar Natkin, LICSW, is a parent educator and consultant in the Seattle area. She is co-owner of GROW Parenting, where this piece was originally posted.