Back to School. This time of year rivals the holiday season in stress levels. Here are three tips for helping your family have more calm in the storm this year.
1. Get real. There is no reason children should be calm about returning to school, it's a lot of change and unknown. Going back to school is a major transition. Here is a chance to help your child practice tolerating uncomfortable feelings. Let your child know that big feelings are natural, they can get really uncomfortable, but they will ease.
As the uncomfortable stuff comes up, often appearing as bad behavior or melt downs, remind your child that a lot is changing and that can feel really hard. If you can keep in mind that bad behavior may be a symptom of stress (just as adult bad behavior is usually a symptom of stress), then you can help your child make better choices in their efforts to feel better. After your child has found their way to being calm, do the apologies for bad behavior, and then everyone let's it go. No grudges, no shame.
2. Begin before school starts. Talk about the change coming, and be sure to make it clear that if it brings up big feelings, you're there to help. This will allow you to come back to this if things get hard, saying to your child; 'remember we talked about how the excitement of going back to school can be hard? I wonder if you need some time to relax and that's why you are having a hard time.' This is a shame free way of essentially doing a time out. Time out as a place of peace and caring instead of punishment.
Another pregame consideration is to shift the family routine from the summer routine to the school normative routine before school actually starts. The more gradual change sets up a more mindful atmosphere, respecting that it's a challenging time. Things like meal times, bed times, food options add up when it all happens at once. The all at once shift minimizes how hard it may feel for your child (and you) and limits time for adjusting.
3. Slow it down. The days before and days after school starts will be especially tender. Children regulate their stress and solve their problems primarily through play. Time to just play will go a long way toward helping them feel centered and strong in big transitions. Slowing it down can support everyone in the family, it gives everyone a chance to feel calm and 'normal'. Be at home and ideally outside. No agenda.
Finally, cut everyone a little slack, including yourself. It's still true that children do what we do, not what we say. When we are more gentle with ourselves, we can be more gentle with those we love.