Back to School, Gently
As the smoke clears here in the Kootenays, it's time to think about going back to school.
For some kids, this is an exciting time. They're eager to return and learn who their teacher will be (if they don’t already know), and see their friends daily again.
For some children, this can be a stressful time, full of anxiety and questions. For instance, this can be a stressful experience for younger kids that are separating from their parenting people.
Either way, this time of year is a transition. Back to rhythms, and back to schedules (sometimes overflowing with extra-curricular activities).
So, the question becomes: How can we support ourselves and our families to make this transition more gracefully?
Of course, that’s going to depend on a lot of factors: temperaments, priorities, and what is possible.
How to Relieve Back to School Anxiety
Here are just a few ideas that are grounded in and inspired by the latest research in child development, human neuroscience,
1. Identify where your kids (and you) will thrive or struggle
In the week ahead of the transition, parents can spend some time identifying the potential challenges and joys of going back to school for each child and for themselves.
Doing this gives us the time and space to orient to and feel ready for the season, and to come up with ideas that are appropriate for setting each child up for success.
Sometimes, we identify that we need more support (childcare, different food options, less or more activities). Once we identify these needs, we can work on getting them met.
2. Speak with your child(ren) about their thoughts
This gives space for your child to talk about and process anything that may be causing anxiety. This may be dynamics with other children in their previous school year, excitement about their new teacher and class, or any other inspirations and concerns that they may have.
Do this when you have the time and energy to really stay present with them. That way, you’ll be able to “be on the same team” to share their challenges and joys. When it comes to staying connected with your children, it's most important to genuinely connect about the good things in their lives, their joys and excitements. With regards to the challenges, you could help them problem-solve any issues by asking them what they think is needed.
3. Plan and practice a before-school routine
This may sound tedious, and we often want to draw summer out as long as possible (fair enough!). Still, it can be helpful to do a dry run of your morning before school starts at least once.
If your child likes a list, create a poster-sized list of things they have to do before they leave the house. If not, give them the experience of learning what you expect from them.
Tip: Keep your mornings simple by making sure that bags are ready, clothes are laid out and breakfast is planned the night before.
Optimally, children will have to get dressed, feed pets, eat breakfast and brush teeth.
Preparing as many aspects of the morning routine as possible increases the chance that you'll have some time to connect with each child for a moment or two before heading out the door. If you do have this time to connect, you'll gain quicker compliance with the last directive, “It’s time to go! Out the door!”
4. Get kids to bed on time
For at least a couple of nights before school starts, practice getting to bed at your typical school night bedtime.
If bedtime has been at irregular times because of the summer, it can be a good idea to make sure that your child is in bed so she has enough sleep to be rested for an early wake-up.
Children need more sleep than adults, usually between 9-12 hours. The younger the child, the closer to 12 hours of sleep they need. So, if you want your child up an hour before school starts (7:30am) they need to be in bed at 7:30 pm.
For many of us, it feels like a race to get dinner on the table and eaten, children cleaned, and bedtime routines completed by that time. It’s good to aim for that, and then be gentle with yourself. Children’s brains take 3 weeks to adapt to a new routine, so don’t expect it to be easy for at least 3 weeks.
5. Find ways to take care of yourself
Lastly, but most importantly, remember your health is equally important.
Our culture really places value on the DO and GO side of life. It can be challenging for parents to get a break that feels restful. Especially if we don’t have extended family where we live, or if our extended family is not supportive. Sometimes it can feel like there is a lot of organization and driving and nagging and tasks that need to happen.
It's very important to take the time to sit with yourself, and choose to schedule some times that are breaks for you. Doing this will allow you to be present for and connected with your child, and that's the best way to ensure that they can return to school gently.