I don’t know about you, but the phrase, “back to school,” is starting to sound synonymous with “My kids are nuts and I’m going to lose my mind.” Alright, that may have been a bit dramatic, but the return to school this year is really starting to feel chaotic. From what I’m hearing from clients, friends, and family members, I’m not alone in feeling this way. Whether it’s trying to calm the excited screams of our children without getting a migraine, or prying our anxious kids off the bedpost when they refuse to leave in the morning. Sound familiar? It’s not easy, trying to juggle school schedules, sports activities, and work. In today’s post, we talk about why transitioning into a back to school routine is so tough (for both parents and kids!) and provide some tips and tricks that can help you cope with it better.
What makes back to school so tough?
Times of transitions for individuals, and particularly families, can be difficult to navigate. While it may be but a long lost memory for you at this point, my suspicion is that the transition from school to summer holidays may have been a bit of a challenge too. The kids go from being occupied 6 hours a day outside of the home to being unoccupied at home which can make them bored, lethargic, and sometimes cranky. However, soon that pent up energy gets put to good use whether that’s in the form of summer camps, baking cookies with grandma, or having friends over for play dates. Time passes by quickly and before you know it, getting your kids back to the school routine becomes the new challenge.
Transitions are dreaded by people mostly due to the feeling of anxiety that often occurs during periods of uncertainty. Anxiety builds in times of transition because we’re thrown off of our rhythm. Just when we finally have a summertime routine set in place, things change and we’re back to a school schedule. Instead of the laid back summer days, we now have a jam-packed schedule of classes and other extracurricular activities. Our kids often get anxious at the return to school as they now have to adjust to new teachers, a new classroom, and reconnecting with friends who they may not have seen for 3 months. An increased workload, daily homework, and high academic expectations may send those stress levels soaring.
It also doesn’t help that school-related anxieties are met with the stresses of life at home. Parents have to juggle work with making lunches, managing sibling quarrels, childcare issues, and getting the kids to and from school and other events. Some parents get pre-empty nest syndrome where the home feels like an empty house. Their major stress comes from their kids getting older and spending more time at school. Both situations make the back-to-school transition tough for parents.
How do we stay sane and cope with the transition?
Here are a few quick tips to manage this year’s transition. This tricks will help you and your kids come out the other side with most of your marbles intact.
- Get to know your kids’ teachers – sooner rather than later. They are an invaluable resource in keeping tabs on your kid’s mental and physical health, as well as their progress at school. If your kid has difficulties in school, make sure there’s a learning plan in place that is supported both at school and at home. If your kid needs extra support, schools often have Education Assistants or blocks of time for students to get extra help. It may also be wise to invest in the services of a tutor, which will give your kid some extra help, and also allow you to attend to other important things on your plate. Kids also tend to respond better to tutoring that isn’t at the hands of a parent.
- Keep tabs on what’s happening in the lives of your family members. It makes planning much easier and keeps everyone organized. My wife and I battle over how best to do this (I’m a geek, so I’m all about electronic calendars and schedules. She’s a paper pusher and loves physical calendars). So, since it’s my article, here are a few good electronic options:iCal/Outlook: Built into your operating system (OS X or Windows respectively) these calendars are flexible and networked so you can see activities/appointments/etc as they change in real time.
- For what it’s worth, we use iCal at our house.Cozi: One of the most popular electronic calendars, built specifically for families and has many nice features such as calendar integration with your desktop computer calendar, as well as its own separate app. It also allows everyone in the family to add to shopping lists, to-do lists, meal planning, and even journaling functions.
- Google Calendar: If you’re wrapped up in the Google ecosphere with your emails, their calendar functionality is very good. Very similar to iCal/Outlook, but quite frankly, it’s probably better. If you use Gmail, it’s well worth looking into.
- If you insist on using paper, I’d suggest getting one of those large monthly calendars from somewhere like Staples that rests on a desk, and pin it to the wall and have everyone add all of their activities onto it so it’s visible, and acts as a compass for the family, and particularly the kids.
- Whether you choose electronic calendars or paper calendars, kids respond best to structure, Instead of tugging them from one activity to the next, a timeline helps kids react better to change if they know what to expect.
- Make your life easier by cooking in bulk, and freezing leftovers in containers to be taken for lunches. One of the best habits to get into is doing some bulk cooking on weekends and freezing meals or making extra of whatever you are eating and freezing the leftovers. Kids often have activities on weekends, or maybe you’re at church all Sunday morning, or maybe you actually work weekends so weekends may not work for you. Whatever your schedule, I highly recommend identifying chunks of time in your week where you can meal prep ahead of time and freeze meals. It will make your life easier, I guarantee it. Once you have identified the time to do this, put it on your calendar and stick to it.
- Set aside time daily to connect with your family. It is a difficult task given how overscheduled we all seem to be in life, but it is incredibly important. As parents, we need to connect with each other to know where we’re at, support each other, and discuss any concerns. We also need to connect with our kids so they have the opportunity to tell us how they’re doing, and also, just have some good old-fashioned fun as a family.Now, I know how busy life gets during the week, and sometimes even sitting down to a meal together seems like a monumental task (or even impossible). We certainly know this in our family and have the same challenges!
- So, here’s a quick 5- minute exercise you can do each day as a family to connect each day. It’s very straightforward – each person takes a turn telling everyone one good thing, one bad thing, and one funny thing that happened that day. This ensures that even at a basic level, everyone is connecting on a daily basis. This also gives parents a chance to talk about challenges of the day, which reinforces to kids that it’s ok to talk about difficult things in the day and that other person will listen and care. Finally, it encourages everyone to laugh together – this is perhaps the most important part!
- Make sure you and the rest of your family have down time. It is so easy in our day and age to overschedule ourselves and think that we have to do everything that is presented to us as an opportunity, or that our kids have to do every school activity, sport, extra class, etc. Nobody can do it all, and further, we are not designed to work or study all day every day. As important as work and school are, the fundamental thing we all need in life to be happy, healthy, and successful is a balance. In order to be balanced in life, we need to offset work and school with social connection, play, reading, drawing, exercise, and other fun activities. We all need to be refreshed, or our well will run dry.
Seek balance, enjoy life. Even during “back to school.”
I hope that this short article encourages you – you are not alone in the mayhem that is “back to school!” This is an exciting, yet challenging time of year for us all – lots of possibilities and opportunities, while full of challenges and chaos. I hope these five strategies will help you as you muddle through this transition period and allow you and your family to strike a balance. Balance is possible, but sometimes it means making hard choices and may even mean not doing some of the things we feel we must, or even just really want to do. If you can make some of these hard choices, your family relationships and your physical and mental health will thank you. When in doubt, choose balance.
If you’d like some help finding a balance for you or your family, we’d love to help. Please give us a call at 604-283-7827, send us an email through our website, or book an appointment online and one of our counsellors would love to help you out!