It’s here. That ‘back to school’ time of year again.
I feel like I barely got my head around the summer routines, and all of those changes, and now I’m scrambling to shift gears to keep up with all of the changes that come along with back to school, the fall, new sports schedules, just to name a few.
Imagine how our kids feel…
Summer often lacks structure, which can come as a welcome change at first, but can also cause stress and anxiety in children. (This is the kind of stress in children that is invisible, growing unconsciously, until it’s revealed in their behaviours.)
The unpredictability of summer is often a challenge for children and for parents – and the pressure for summer to be awesome, and fun, and adventure filled adds stress for everyone.
Shouldn’t this mean that ‘back to school’ would provide relief (it’s ok to say yes to that one parents!!), structure, boundaries and predictability? While I can agree that the answer is in fact ‘yes’ to all of the above, it’s important not to forget or minimize the change, and the significant transition for our families when it’s ‘back to school’ time.
There’s a lot of literature and research around how to help children navigate transitions. Typically this is geared to younger children, and it’s ‘expected’ or typical that young children would struggle with transitions.
Truth? We all struggle with transitions and with change.
In my house, I’m the one scrambling to keep up and I’m the one resisting the transition to our fall routines.
How can we support our children through the innumerable transitions they experience, when we ourselves might also be struggling, AND when so many of the changes that challenge our children happen when they are at school?
Here are a few things you can try. (These are currently being tried in my own home. They’re not fool proof, and come with no guarantees but it’s a place to start and we’ll check-in on our progress together!)
Set Goals Together
Children love to be part of the planning! Often parents dictate routines, chores, bedtimes and expectations because it feels like that’s our role & responsibility as parents. Guess what? I’ve never parented an 9yr old & 11 yr old until this very moment and I am learning right alongside them.
Allow your kids to generate ideas; laugh at the funny unrealistic ones, marvel at the impossible ones and embrace the ones that might actually work. This give you a change to celebrate your child and it simultaneously grows their confidence and their investment in the success of your family goals.
(Ideas: One Family Game Night a week, Kids Dinner Choice one night each week, walk the dog together more often, Plan a friends play date once a month… trust me, your kids will easily come up with more!!)
Create Chore Lists Together
We borrow a lot of sports terminology as parents. Our children have heard the expression, ‘we’re a team’ since they were little. We can stretch the team metaphor into all aspects of our life and our parenting, and I love it!
If my husband and I are having friends over, our team gets to work. If grandparents are coming for dinner, the team rolls up their sleeves. Much to the surprise of my children, when they have a playdate or want friends to come over, our team ALL pitches in to tidy up & get ready.
Although the kids have a few specific responsibilities, we routinely change, re-assign and re-negotiate our household chores. Allowing the kids to swap chores, prioritize their “preferred” tasks or choose a teammate for a bigger one gives them some ownership over the process and infuses some excitement into the process.
Be Consistent & Predictable
There are basic expectations, rules, boundaries or family norms in every house – each different from the next – but the ones that REALLY matter to you are the ones I’m talking about here.
Here are a few of mine; no TV, video games or devices before school, steel cut oats for breakfast on school mornings, when I say “can you come here for a minute please” – you come, don’t ask why, just come. (Oh, and no short shorts, blue & black don’t go together, yes you ‘need’ to brush your hair… I could go on & on, and on – I’m working on this!!)
I get stuck in the trap of making exceptions, and honestly, it never ends well. I usually don’t budge on the blue & black together, but checking sports highlights or the odd bowl of cereal on a school morning, that happens. It’s certainly not the end of the world, but it does make reinforcing it the next time much harder. I need to remind myself that any attitude or behaviour when I’m inconsistent, although still not acceptable, has something to do with a lack of consistency in my parenting and is never simply just ‘bad’ behaviour.
Change is never easy, but we try hard to make it fun. Be honest with your kids about how you are experiencing the changes and new fall transitions. Own what really matters to you, but be open to the creativity and insight your children can offer. They will surprise you when you include them in the process. Approach this fall as a team – experience it together – and enjoy it together.