It’s back-to-school time. You might know this from the countless retail ads reminding you that your kids “need this,” or can’t go to school “without that.” You might know because one of your kids has become fixated on the calendar and you’re starting to mentally prepare him for what his days are going to look like. Or you could know because your daughter is turning eight on the first day of school, so she’s reminding you of not only the fact that she’s turning EIGHT (how did that happen?), but that you only have so many days of summer left.
With my daughter going into Grade Three and my son going into full-day Senior Kindergarten, it’s been five years since I’ve been doing the back-to-school thing. I’m no expert, but there are a few things I've learned to make the back-to-school transition easier on everybody.
1. Be Prepared For Anything
No matter how well we know our children, the start of school can bring out behaviours in our kids that we don’t expect or have never seen before. When my youngest started Junior Kindergarten last year, we watched our easygoing, gentle son turn into a ball of anxiety who wouldn’t leave my side, and who was prone to hitting as a means of communication. It took a while, but with the help of his amazing teachers, and by putting in place some tools at home to ease his anxieties, he found his place in the kindergarten classroom.
2. Charts Are Your Friend
Getting out the door in the mornings will never be easy, but my kids are far more likely to stick to the routine if they have a visual chart of what they are supposed to do. Before the Fall term begins, we sit down and figure out what tasks each child has to accomplish in order to get out the door. Once we have made the chart, we post it in the kitchen by the breakfast table. Instead of me harping on them to brush their teeth, or pack their lunches, or (insert mundane task here), I ask them to look at their chart and see what they should be doing.
3. Be Their Release Valve (and be okay with that)
At the end of the school day, you may get a smiling cuddly daughter or you might get a scowling, weeping maniac who doesn’t like the after-school snack you brought. Take both with equanimity. I’m paraphrasing my daughter’s kindergarten teacher, but the gist of what she said was this: “These kids have been holding it together all day. They’ve been listening, experiencing new social dynamics, figuring out their boundaries, and processing all they’ve learned. When they finally see their parents, they feel safe to release it all, and that presents itself in many ways.” I learned very quickly that my daughter wasn’t really weeping because I brought the wrong kind of crackers. She was falling apart after school some days because she could. Because she was with me. I still never know what I’m going to find when I go to school pickup, but I’m glad that I can be my kids’ release valve.
4. Be Compassionate
There are going to be adjustments of some sort, no matter how smooth the back-to-school transition might seem for our kids. It could mean finding out that none of his close friends are in the same class and navigating a new group of kids on the playground, or that her teacher is far stricter than last year. Whatever the challenge (big or small), listening to their troubles and being as compassionate as possible is the best way to help ease them into a successful school year.
5. Find Ways To Connect
After being away from home all day, kids just want to connect with their parents. I find this is especially true in the first few weeks of school. Something as simple as playing a board game at some point in the after-school hours, or catch in the backyard before dinner makes a big difference in my kids’ behaviour. And at suppertime, we always talk about our roses and thorns of the day. Roses are the great things that happened, and thorns are the more difficult moments of the day. This is a fantastic way to get the kids to open up, and gives us an opportunity to discuss issues further if we need to.
6. Take Care of Yourself
No matter how prepared I am for it, the change in schedule and the back-to-school shift always seems hectic. But I know that if I’m not handling a busy schedule well, I can’t expect my kids to. Knowing how much energy the transition into September takes, I rarely make social plans in the first few weeks of school, I make getting to bed early a priority, and I make sure I stick to my workout routine. These small things make a huge difference when it comes to managing my own work/life demands, and go far in giving me the energy and stability I want to provide for my kids.
How about you? Do you have any sanity saving tips for going back to school?
While we're on the topic of family dynamics, you might be interested in the eight lessons I've learned and re-learned about love or how our family changed a regular humdrum weeknight into a happy celebration.