13 Sep Back to School
You can bet that when it’s time to go back to school, life turns upside down, the pace picks up and it takes quite a while for the dust to settle. It’s not easy making the transition from the lazy days of summer to the structure and work of school life. Whether your child is starting pre-school, elementary, high school or even college/university or you are home-schooling, parents must realize that everyone has an adjustment period that takes several weeks. Family stress is quite high during that time, as family members try to bodily, mentally and emotionally rise to the occasion. Even parents experience the additional stress of pulling it all together for a smooth transition. Constantly take your own pulse and listen to the need to slow down, stress less, do your best and forget the rest. Prioritizing moments of self-care will really help you along the way, whether breaking for a relaxed cup of tea, being out in nature for a short time, listening to your favorite music or enjoying a warm bath at the end of a busy day. Keep in mind self care is not selfishness. As the airline stewardess reminds us, when adults put on their oxygen mask first, they are always in a better position to help their children survive major transitions.
There is no quick fix to helping kids adjust immediately and serenely. I often see my own kids come home totally exhausted from the long day, hard work and new classmates. Their goody bank is running low and it’s no wonder they are crabby, fighting and fall asleep in the oddest places. Over the years I’ve learned to lower my expectations and take it one day at a time. Things only seem to settle down at the one month mark, with normalcy by the second month. Here are some tips in the meantime:
- A week before school begins, start sleep routines in advance: getting up and going to bed early. The body needs time to get used to the new schedule. So do parents.
- Stock up supplies well in advance so that you are not running around when school begins. i.e knapsack, lunch bag, indoor and outdoor shoes, markers, pencil crayons, eraser, ruler, glue stick, small scissors, etc.
- Prepare the way for your eldest. The oldest child always has the biggest challenge, because they cannot learn from watching their older sibling go through the experience. It’s very important to help them conceptualize what will be happening so that they become more comfortable with it. Take them in advance, whether months or weeks, to see the school and locate the main office, washrooms, gym, library etc. Talk about what it will be like. Tell them about what to expect, how things work, what to do when they have problems etc. Even better, seek out someone who will be going to the same place to befriend your child so they will not feel so alone. For very young children, make the extra effort of walking or driving them to school for the first while.
- Get a head start. Whatever you can do the day before, do it – whether it’s to set the breakfast table, help them put their clothes out, make sure knapsacks are full and ready, prepare their lunches etc. Make every effort to de-stress the school morning so that you are happier, more patient and not so rushed.
- Plan yummy meals. Going back to school takes a lot out of a kid. Children need hearty breakfasts, lunches, snacks and suppers. Provide what they like in good food and lots of it. This is not the moment to experiment with new recipes and foods. Ask around and see what women do to make meals simpler: a crock pot of homemade breakfast oatmeal cooked overnight; making supper earlier in the day so there is less stress at supper time. Avoid the expense of pre-made packaged food and get some great plastic containers for cut up veggies, cheese, fruit, crackers, boiled eggs, etc. Here are some ideas. Go on-line to find more that save you time and money.
- Hugs and hellos. Be thrilled to welcome your kids home. Surround them with affection. This may take sacrifice on your part but make an effort to rise to the occasion. Your joy and attention go a long, long way. It is important to give your kids a good chunk of uninterrupted time to share what they have to say. This moment is golden. If not taken, the same sharing will not take place later. So be heroic in making it happen. You will learn so much and you will solidify your relationship more. It makes a big difference for all of you.
- Provide a bigger snack when kids come home. Their blood sugar is low and they are usually quite wiped out. A good, nutritious snack helps boost their batteries. Realize those sweets set them up for a momentary sugar high and then a crash. Good foods (cheese, crackers, muffins, pretzels, nuts, fruit, vegetables etc.) sustain them much better over a longer period.
- Give them downtime once they get home. They need time to unwind. Have good books on hand, some games that are accessible, great music, possibly a short video. They will be in a better mood after some rest.
- Plan fewer activities. Purposely schedule fewer extra-curricular, programs, guests etc. during the first month of school. Kids need time to make the adjustment. So do you. Be willing to arrive late to activities instead of causing family meltdown. Rush less.
- Surround with affection and attention. Although kids are drained when they come home and easily fight, focus on the positive. Take a moment to play with your kids and laugh with them. Lower your expectations momentarily. Transitions are hard on people. Give your kids the space they need to drop anchor and refill their gas tanks.
- Divide and conquer. When you have more than one child, it’s normal there is friction. Not all personalities click and kids have different ages and stages for getting along. Most problems right after school are caused by tiredness and hunger. Rather than blow your top off, change your tactics. Up the snack, adjust the homework time. Try to spend some individual time with each child, especially your chief troublemaker. Plan something fun – read some comics, play a short game, put out some toys they enjoy, make supper together.
- Don’t over-program – See your child’s school life as their profession. In order to do well, they need to be well rested, focused and on top of things. Don’t take on too many activities outside of school during grade school. School and family life are usually enough, with one activity sufficient during the school year and something during the summer. Extra-curriculars are better placed in high school years where hormones rage and kids need to be purposely occupied and structured. Often children who are over-programmed in youth look for other thrills in teen years. It is wise to start off small and slowly increase activities as they approach adolescence. Teenagers are better able to contribute to costs, get to events themselves and learn time management skills in the process.
- Have a homework plan.
- Kids need a proper place to do homework with materials nearby (dictionary, paper, pencil, eraser, crayons etc.). Most of my kids work best at the dinner table, dining room table or coffee table. Keep them in eye shot so you can see if it’s being accomplished. I even have some children read to me or do simple exercises beside me while I work in the kitchen or do the dishes. They need more verbal support rather than hands on. That way I get two things done at once. Do what works for you.
- Realize too that some teachers send homework home on Monday and want it handed back on Friday. Adjust the pace of homework completion to the child’s ability and your family life. Finally, be flexible. Some kids do homework better an hour after they’ve come home; others immediately after supper. Some leave it for much later. Figure out what works best for your child and stick to it.
- If you have a lot of school children, have your spouse and older children buddy up with younger ones. Have some children do their homework before supper, others after. Each family has their own scenario; keep adjusting until you find the optimum plan.
- Communicate with your teacher about where you are at. Our school uses agendas. If I’m bogged down by life and can’t get to homework or assignments on time etc., I let the teacher know. That way I don’t feel so stretched. It is also worthwhile to frequently give positive feedback to the teacher about what is going well and what you like. You are teammates and need to cheer each other on in helping your children become the best version of themselves.
- Be patient. Often easy to say, hard to do. If you are always losing your temper so will everyone else. Increase your exercise, eat healthier, get enough sleep and don’t over plan your days. Swap ideas with other moms have a cup of tea before your kids walk in the door and remember to smile. You are the heart of the home. Don’t have your expectations too high. Remember love conquers all. Take it one day at a time and before you know it, the back to school stress will have disappeared. So stick with it; it is worthwhile.