With the back-to-school season upon us, it’s important to remember something about our kids: they get stressed out and anxious too! Every year we send our kids to school, where they’ll be in a new classroom, with a new teacher, seeing new faces, and having a new curriculum. It would be a lot for an adult, let alone a 5 or 10 year old! In the early years, the stress and anxiety may be more about having to leave home and you, but it’s still there as they hit their tween and teen years. This age group puts a ton of pressure on themselves with needing to look a certain way, being aware of their body and others, having crushes, developing good friendships, all while keeping up their grades.
My point is that school is tough for every aged child going back to school. Our jobs as parents is to understand this and support our child, no matter the challenge. It can be easy to say to yourself, “What?! You’re worried about THAT little thing? That’s just silly!” But you never want to say that to your child. One comment like that can keep your child quiet for months to come. They may never open up to you again, if that’s the reaction they get. So it’s very important that they know that they come to you with any and all problems and that there will be no judgements from you.
Having 4 children of my own, being a parenting coach, and a sleep coach, I have had the privilege of seeing these things first hand. Because of this, I want to help you navigate this very important back-to-school time! Here are 5 tips to help:
1 – Have a snack ready – If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that kids are STARVING when they get home from school! My kids come in the door, throw their backpacks down, take off their shoes, put on some hand sanitizer, and head right to the pantry. They have very little to say, and could really care less that I’m there. So do yourself a favor and have a healthy snack ready for your kiddo, before inundating them with the “how was your day” questions.
2 – Check in with your child daily – While they might not be in the mood to talk much when they first come home, you can always chat later in the evening or before bed. In fact, you can make this a part of the bedtime routine, though be sure to start the routine a few minutes earlier so bedtime isn’t pushed back too late. For younger children, you’ll want to ask very specific questions, like “what did you have for lunch today?” or “who did you sit next to on the bus today?” For older children, you can ask open-ended questions, like “anything good happen at school?” or “what did you learn about in math class today?”
Keep your eyes and ears open for subtle issues, like the tone of their voice, their mannerisms, or their body language. Even though they may say their day was good, does their body and tone of voice say something different to you? You might need to push through and ask some more questions. If they really don’t want to talk, it’s best to stop pushing. You might ask your spouse/partner to talk to them later or you can try talking to them about it at another time, especially if it seems like something is really bothering them. And when you finally do get them to open up, try not to judge and comment too much. Just listen, and show them empathy. Sometimes a problem doesn’t really need a solution, but more of just a listening ear and moral support.
3 – Have an earlier bedtime – Your child will be exhausted that first week or two of school. Now is not the time to let them stay up later. In fact, if you can get them into bed a few minutes earlier than usual that would likely help. We can’t do much about the time they wake up in the morning, but we can control what time they go to bed. A well-rested child is going to be able to handle their days better, as well as handling their evenings at home with you better.
4 – Try not to overload the evenings – I realize that we’re heading into the fall season with tons of sports, dance, and other evening activities going on, but be careful you don’t overdo it. Like I said, getting back to school is exhausting. If your child doesn’t have time to wind down from their day, they’re more likely to throw some pretty awesome fits and meltdowns at their practices and in their classes. Couple that with possibly getting to bed later than usual, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. If your child can forego any strenuous evening activities at least in the first week, you’ll both be happier!
5 – Teach your child to breathe – I know that sounds silly, but I’m talking about deep breathing. It’s important to give your child an outlet for their stress, anxiety, and overall frustration to help avoid public meltdowns. Show them how to take deep breaths. A good way to teach it is this… Have your child imagine that it’s their birthday and you just made them their favorite flavor cake. Ask them to use their nose and smell that yummy chocolate (for example) cake. Then have them hold their breath for a count of 3, before blowing out their birthday candles. It’s a great visual to get them to learn how to do it!
Explain to them that they can take 2 or 3 of these deep breaths any time they feel stressed or feel like crying. I also like to include it as part of their bedtime routine. Deep breathing is a very stress-relieving type of activity that can help the child to become relaxed and sleepy. Personally, I do 3 deep breaths with my 9 year old daughters every night before bed. We’ve actually been doing it for a few years now and they look forward to it. If I’m not going to be home at night to tuck them in, they’ll have me do it with them before I leave! Just beware that if you get into this nightly routine, it can make you sleepy too. I always yawn when doing it with them!
If you can follow the above tips, then you will hopefully have an awesome first week or two back to school! However, if you’ve followed these things and your child is still having a tough time adjusting, it might be a good idea to talk to your child’s teacher and/or guidance counselor. As much as I would love to say that we are always enough for our kids, that’s just how it works. There will be times throughout their life that they will prefer talking to other adults, like a counselor. Don’t let that get you down though! If you can keep the lines of communication open, then they will eventually come back to find you!
*Need some parenting help? Check out my Parenting Solutions online course or one-on-one Parenting Solutions package! Or, if your child is struggling with their sleep (including stay up too late, waking at night, waking too early, needing your help to fall asleep, etc), I can help! Remember, I help children of all ages. Besides the packages for young children, I also have a School-Aged package (ages 5-12yrs) and a Teen package(ages 13-19). As always, I’m happy to talk to you on a free 15min assessment call. And feel free to share this blog and comment below with what helps your little one adjust to school!