Preparation Starts Before the Opening Bell
By Dr. Jay Greenfeld
The end of summer only brings one inevitable thing for most parents and children-the return of the school year. The back-to-school specials and sales started at some point midway through our summer. We can thank our friends south of the border for that marketing as they begin classes in early August. However, despite the chaos inside the retail giants, there are a number of ways you as parents and your children can prevent the early weeks of the year from being stressful. I was always asked if I was ever stressed about returning to school after a long summer. The truth of the matter is, I knew it was coming. It was never a surprise for me to start school in September because I did it for decades. After the first few years of elementary school, it becomes very easy to see how the pattern goes. The key to embracing the beginning of the school year for both parents and children largely stems from preparation. The more you can prepare ahead of time, the more manageable the proverbial hurricane will be for everyone in the house.
For parents, know your family and know how they adjust. If there are number of people in your family (yourselves included) that become very anxious about the beginning of the year, it may not be within your best interest to plan an end of summer vacation. It can be very exciting for everyone in the family and it is a one last chance for the family to connect before the fall activities get going. However, if you know you will need a vacation from your vacation, it is likely not going to help decrease your stress leading into the school year. If you have that desire to do so, make it short so there is time to adjust when you return.
As the parent, you are setting the example. So, let your children see that you are preparing for school. Try to arrange as many appointments as you need to for the children (e.g., meeting teachers, medical professionals) so you have an idea many months in advance. Inform your children of which activities they have been able to sign up for and what days they will be. Take them school supplies shopping and have the supplies in a specific space in the house so they know it is there and that it belongs to them. Be sure you are getting them back into the routine of going to sleep at a decent hour. Yes, it is still summer, but the earlier you can prepare them for getting back into the routine, the easier it will be when school starts. Moreover, having your children in bed at an appropriate time will also give you much more needed respite in preparing for the school year.
Shift gears and ensure that you are able to establish or re-establish your school year routine. Return to regular meals and meal times, reengage in exercise if you took some time off during the summer, and reconnect with your friends as they will likely be a good source of support as they are transitioning too. Above all, engage in Anxiety reducing techniques to ensure that any worries you may have are not so overt. If your concerns emerge in front of the children, they may take on some of those worries themselves. Lastly, reserve a day to remove any clutter in the house because once the school year starts, it is very unlikely to happen and it will only accumulate.
For your children, have them start to talk about going back to school. Engage in the conversation with your children so you can hear directly from them what they are thinking or feeling about returning to school. As we know, each child is very different in their own way, so be sure to take some time individually with each one. Help your children focus on the summer that was and everything that highlighted their memorable experiences including what they learned from each one. Be sure your children are at least trying to openly talk about what they are looking forward to most about the year ahead. Each year that passes, your children become slightly more independent (hopefully), celebrate that, and help them see how it will benefit them to increase their responsibilities.
If you want your children to go through the school year with their feet on the ground, then as the saying goes, ensure they have responsibility on their shoulders. Outline the chores they will have throughout the year, balance each chore with a reason as to why they are old enough to take care of that, and celebrate their growth. When (not if), they resist the new initial workload, use that as a teachable moment to help them learn grit and that they are a contributing member to the family team. Prepare them to commit to a plan of action for the year. The more specific the plan is, the more likely they are to follow it. Finally, go through any exercises or activity books prior to the school year starting to help address their concerns (e.g., worries, making friends, or succeeding in Math and reading), so they can both mentally and academically be more prepared for that opening month.
Whether it is preparing for the beginning of the school year, adjusting to the end of summer, or anticipating the new roles for both parents and children in the fall, the key is preparation. The more prepared the family can be, the easier the adjustment will be for all. If you want your children to be serious about school, it will be important to be serious about preparing them for the beginning of the year. Be firm with your time management and bed times, openly engage in conversations and reflections with your children and your partners about the summer and the forthcoming fall, and do not forget to have fun with the changes. Try to help your children see that preparing for the school is not so much about something ending, but more so transitioning to the next series of adventures.
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