One of the worst feelings a person can experience as a parent is watching your child struggle. You want to take them, pull them out of the situation, and give them a safe place. The month of August contains a vast array of emotions that mostly centers around school. Some parents can’t wait for school to begin, some educators are apprehensive, and in the middle, our students have some very intense mixed feelings about school. With a new year, new teacher/s, new friends, and possibly a new school, there is a lot of unknown. The weeks leading up to the start of school tend to have a wide range of emotions from our kids; this time gives parents an opportunity to really tune into our children’s needs and emotions.
Summer often leads to a break in the routine that the school year provides. Summer allows for staying up and sleeping in later, unexpected or surprising activities, vacations, and freedom throughout the day. If you are a parent who has a family on a “summer schedule”, now is the perfect time to start reestablishing some structure and routine. This will help to prepare your kids for the first day of school, and the schedule of the school year.
When I was a “summer parent”, we would have set times throughout the day for certain activities. In the morning we would go for a walk or a drive to a park, followed by lunch and then have reading time. While it may be difficult to “make” your child read, the quiet time allows for a mental break for everyone. It also provides time for parents and kids to connect over reading and storytelling. Later in the afternoon we would have another activity such as swimming or finding a splash park. While the day wasn’t completely structured and activities changed, the general idea that the day had a schedule was helpful for all of us to stay in routine.
Once school has started, it is important to stay in touch with your kids and check in on their feelings. Get into the habit of asking them questions. I remember asking “How was your day?” and then getting the unenthusiastic, “Fine” as their only response. This frustrated me, so I started asking, “What was the best part of your day?”. This allowed the kids to share something exciting that happened at school and provided much more enriching feedback. Other questions you can ask include: “Who did you sit with at lunch?” “What did you play at recess today?” “Did you learn anything new in science today?” Making the questions more specific and geared towards what your child enjoys can get them to open up more and feel engaged in the conversation.
While going back to school is exciting, it can also be stressful for both kids and parents. Listed below are some stress management strategies from Dr. Elizabeth Scott, from her article in VeryWellMind.com
- Get enough sleep – start going to bed earlier, starting the first of August to get ready for that first day of school.
- Remember what you love – Train your brain to think of things that you are looking forward to doing at school even if it is just seeing your teacher or having a favorite lunch.
- Exercise daily – get outside and get the heart rate up. There is more and more research describing the importance of getting the release of dopamine through exercise. Do this with your kids and have a blast sharing some energy time together.
- Diet – make sure our kids are getting enough healthy food to help them be ready to learn and are starting the day off right.
- When our kids (and the rest of us ) have a time when we are feeling a little panic (fight, flight or freeze response), remember this is the time our brains need to be fed oxygen and lots of it – BREATHE.
It is completely acceptable for our children to be a little anxious or nervous about starting a new year at school, and for parents to be stressed or feeling overwhelmed. As an educator, I would be concerned if a student was not at all concerned about taking a test. It is important to teach our students that the only way we grow is through the struggle. I often ask my teenagers why people lift weights and why they keep wanting to add more weight – just as we add weight to the bar to allow us to be stronger physically, it is okay for our children to have a little weight added to their emotional and behavioral side as well to help them grow stronger.
Here at Arbor Family Counseling, we provide counseling services for both parents and children dealing with anxiety, stress, and the overwhelming feelings that we are all experiencing this time of year. Please contact your child’s school to receive the benefits of our Student Assistance Program, or call Arbor Family Counseling at 402-330-0960 to schedule today.