Originally posted August 20, 2016.
Back to school time! While I know that some of you are still hanging onto these last few weeks of summer and may even be in denial of the upcoming school year, it is time to start thinking about how to prepare for the change ahead. Right about now I start suggesting to families to start to discuss the routine change ahead and implement pieces of it step by step so when school starts it is an easy transition. It’s important to remember that nervous systems get activated in transition so this is also a time when old behaviors arise and kids regress or act out. Helping them prepare and soothe will mitigate those heightened emotions. Here are a few suggestions to get you going:
1. Gentle bed time and wake up time transition: Many families stay up later and sleep later in the summer. If you are one of these it’s time to start gently shifting more and more to the timeline you will be on starting in September. This will greatly help the mood swings associated with sleep changes when school starts. If you have an adolescent this is particularly important as their summer sleep schedules tend to be more dramatically off and they need lots of sleep!
2. Creative routine charts: I love getting creative with charts and routines, this helps reduce power struggles for both kids and parents. With some kind of visual aide parents don’t have to nag to get stuff done, only remind kids to check on what they need to do. I highly suggest making these together so kids feel empowered in the process. There are many ways to do this. Flash cards can help those kids who are more visual. Take index cards and either draw, write or collage each step of morning and bedtime routines. I like them to be in order for flow, you can even add time lines onto it if that’s helpful. Hole-punch a corner and tie a string or put a key ring in and hang it next to their bed. In the morning or evening when chaos is starting and somehow they can never remember to brush their teeth all you have to do is say, what’s next on your flash cards? Have you done them all?
3. Play and rest time: When making your routine it is especially important to talk about when play and rest time is. I often think this is best right after school with a snack. When you get home from work do you want to go right into doing more work? Not especially. If kids know they have some free time to just be a kid before homework, chores and dinner they may be more apt to do the things they need to. Each kid is different, maybe for some that play time comes after homework. Either way, make sure they know that each day during the school year they have unstructured time just for them. This is really critical for their development as kids process much of their day during unstructured time. (I would add that this kind of time is important for adults too!)
4. Planning and expectations: It’s important to find time to talk about the upcoming year and things that will be going on. Often in my office I have kids make a map of the school year, especially if they are nervous. We start with “Now” and make a road through “End of # grade.” Along the way we write or draw then discuss things they know will happen and things they are excited about or worried about that may or may not happen. We start to brainstorm strategies on how they may deal with all of the upcoming situations. I always make sure that educational, social, extra-curricular, physical, emotional pieces are in the drawing so we cover the bases of a child’s life and development. A lot of kids are nervous about what teachers or classes they will have. I like to write down the date of knowing on the piece with strategies on how to cope with the unknown like deep breathing, thinking of another time they didn’t know and it all worked out, or distracting to something else positive.
Regardless if you use any of these creative techniques to address these areas with your child, it’s important to think about them and find ways to start the shift toward school in your home. This will make the transition smoother for you all. A little time and effort up front this summer will save you much time and effort when the alarm goes off at 6am and nighttime routines include homework, projects and baths.
May you all have a smooth transition into the school year!