The first week of school is a strange time of year, isn't it? So many things are new! I sat down with my husband, the Marriage and Family Therapist, this morning and discussed how parents can best help their kids adjust back to school this first week. As a teacher by trade, I was expecting something along the lines of 1) Create a clear expectation for daily routine at home, including homework time, dinner, extracurricular activities, and family time as well as sleep schedule and normal duties, 2) Connect with your child's teachers so that they know you are involved and engaged with your kids' education, and 3) Ensure that they have what they need but don't overfill their lockers and backpacks on day 1. Instead, he came up with the following list: Attach, Understand, and Respect. Sometimes, it's just that simple:
1) Attach: Remember as emotions go up, thinking goes down, and all of a sudden, we are asking our children to start thinking intensely. To do that, they often suppress their emotional expression in an effort to both be accepted at school and to try and keep up with all the new experiences they are having. By the end of the day, all their emotions are bottled up, and they are quite likely to release them in their safe place, aka, the car and/or home. So listen, organize the kids, and give them space if they need it! Attach when necessary and Detach when needed. The older the kid is, the more likely it is that they are going to want to detach from you as a parent. They may want to attach to a hobby, interest, or peer group. If they don't want to talk, they seem more quiet or more emotional than normal THAT'S FINE! As long as they are attaching to SOMETHING positive it's all good. Caviot: You should be able to see what they are attaching to. If you don't know, or your child is hiding their activities, that's should raise a red flag. Their activities may not be healthy or may involve risk taking. Remain open and available to them, and continue to provide a routine.
2) Understand: Remember that every new school year is like starting a new job with new bosses, new co workers, new expectations, and new rules. When kids switch campuses it's not just new bosses, it's a new workplace! Understanding is crucial and it can take 3-6 weeks to settle, so don't expect the child to adjust immediately! If you begin getting frustrated with your child, think back to your first day in your job. It was probably a mixture of excitement, frustration, and fear of the unknown. This is the same coctail running around in your child's mind, except instead of just one new job, they have 6-8 new jobs. We call them subjects or classes, but each one runs differently! This is especially impactful when you concider the fact that the part of our brains which organizes and manages our impulses, emotions, and executive functions is not fully developed until we are in our 20s, so we are really asking them to do something that their brain isn't ready for.
3) Remember that each child is different, so just because 15 year old Susie LOVED fifth grade and adjusted very fast, her 10 year old brother Tommy who is going into 5th grade now may take longer to adjust. He may see things as uncomfortable or anxiety producing than she did at that age! Remember that some children experience more difficulties than others, and don't use one of your children as a standard of expectation for the other.
We hope that the 2015-2016 school year is productive, not only from an academic perspective, but from a relationship, family, social, and emotional one. We pray that your experiences are blessed, and that you don't simply survive it, you thrive it.