Transitioning Back to School

Each year, the last week of August feels the same. During the day, it feels like summer and all is right. My summer has usually produced happy memories of family togetherness as well as a slower pace and laziness that only happens during this one special season. But come early evening, during that last week of August, there is a coolness in the air, along with longer shadows on the deck, and an earlier setting of the sun. And I know, deep down in my gut, that Fall is tiptoeing, a little too quickly, into my life. I am aware of parents and children picking out shiny new lunchboxes, and schools buzzing with activity as teachers prepare for the new year. This is the feeling I experience during Back-to-School season.

For me, the anticipation of the new school year has always produced feelings of mixed emotion. While I look forward to the routine of the school year, and the freshness of the growth to come, I also feel an uneasiness about all the newness that is about to begin. After many years, I have acknowledged that the driver of my late August restlessness is the transition into the unknown; unknown teachers, unknown schedules, unknown friends. I do not do well with the unknown.

Even though my children are mostly grown, I still experience this Back-to-School angst. I have learned to lean into my feelings of discomfort with lots of self-care; exercise, being with people, having things to keep me busy, along with purposeful positive self-talk about the normalcy and temporary state of my emotions.

For many kids and parents, the new school year produces feelings of both hope and stress. During this time of transition, begin to think about creating a September routine that eases your family into a new routine. Thinking purposefully about a few family routines can make the month of September a bit smoother.

  1. Downtime

Kids are using a tremendous amount of social energy and attention during the first weeks of school. If you have ever had a new job, you know how much energy it takes to meet new people and learn new routines. Your child is learning a new set of expectations and hidden rules, rules that you are just supposed to know because now you are in the -fill in any- grade. Most children are doing their best to connect with the new people in their lives.

To prevent at home meltdowns, build in time for your child to replenish their social energy. Avoid the desire to ask a continuous stream of questions, but rather connect over low key activities your child enjoys. Play a game or take a walk. This may mean allowing your child to take a social break rather than scheduling playdates. Notice how your child is coping with the school year schedule and adjust your child’s activities and social life accordingly.

  1. Homework

Getting back into a homework routine can be challenging. During the first weeks of school, build in time for that return to homework by purposefully thinking about the when and where homework will take place. Start the year by not saving homework for the last minute. If you are able, support your child by sitting at the table, either helping your child or doing your own “homework”. Have some tea or a snack together. Do your best to respond to your child’s feelings without getting frustrated or creating a power struggle. Being clear in your expectations and responsive to your child’s feelings and input is the key to building a successful routine.

  1. Meal Planning

This was always my personal struggle! During September, I encourage you to think about how to create a routine for breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners. (No wonder this was so hard for me!) Although I do not have any magic answers to this daily struggle, I know that providing meals takes thought and planning. Build in that time for planning and preparation, and if possible, allow your children to participate in the process. Children benefit from having family responsibilities and choices involving mealtime. Fall is a great time to begin these new positive routines. Also, think about providing a well-liked, protein rich snack for your child at pick-up. Afterschool is often a time of “hangry” release following a day of keeping emotions in check at school.

  1. Bedtime Routines

Summer is literally and figuratively light. As parents, many of us choose to let our children stay up later during the summer which can lighten the struggle of bedtime routines. Now that school is about to begin, getting enough sleep often involves earlier bedtimes. With elementary schools beginning earlier than ever before, it can be challenging to get our kids to bed at night. Bedtime routines require purposeful planning for parents.

Like many of the routines parents create for their children, allowing an ample amount of time to get kids from full activity to sleep requires planning. Start by thinking about the optimal sleep your child needs to function at his or her best. Then, work backwards from the time your child needs to be at school. How much time does the morning routine take? What time does your child need to get up to be at school on time? Then work backwards to figure out the time your child should ideally be asleep. Finally, think about how long it takes your child to wind down and what needs to happen for him or her to fall asleep. If you think this is a lot of work, I agree!  I acknowledge that this amount of thought about something so simple can feel overwhelming, but I also know that paying attention to bedtime can lead to positive outcomes for families.

As your child heads back to school, enjoy the freshness that Fall allows. Appreciate the big yellow school busses, fresh haircuts, new shoes, and back-to-school photos on social media. And, also know that even though it may look like all the other families are holding things together, September can be a significant transition for kids and families. Figure out how to simplify your life and create purposeful routines that allow you and your children to thrive.