It’s that time of year again, back to school! I know you must be asking yourself, “How can that be?! Where did the summer go!?” The sun is still out and the beach is still calling your name! The calendar turns to the beloved months of August and September and you notice the never ending ‘To-do List’ begins to include carpools, karate, and back to school coupons. However, you are not the only one feeling the “Back to School Blues,” your child is as well.
Just as you are realizing summer is really over, so is your youngster. Your child may act out with behavioral issues and display agitated emotions such as trouble sleeping, crying, clinging and throwing tantrums. These can all be signs of heightened anxiety about this transition period and returning to school. It is important to take note of these behaviors and encourage your child to share their feelings rather than acting them out. The fear of the unknown is very stressful; new school bus, new classrooms and teachers and the fear of new social situations and making new friends. All of these changes can be very overwhelming, yet, children are very capable of coping with change. Creating a setting that fosters resilience and encourages them to share their feelings is the best thing a parent can do. Below are 10 tips for combatting those “Back to School Blues:”
Mark the Calendar
Before school starts, gather everyone together around the kitchen table and let everyone pick out a special colored marker. Take out your calendar and note all the things your family has to look forward to. Map out and mark fun trips, like last day at the beach, back to school shopping, playdates with new friends at school, fall carnivals, recitals and sports games! Allow your child to see that back to school planning does not just involve school nights and homework; it includes all the fun, too!
Involve Your Kids
Allow your children to help in planning and setting up playdates, chore boards and homework schedules. Give them some stickers, markers and decorations to make this activity fun and all their own! They can get creative about their schedules and be a part of the planning.
Let your kids cut up the back to school shopping flyers and design a first day of school outfit collage, including backpacks, lunch boxes, notebooks and clothes! It will give you an idea of what you’ll be shopping for; making it easier on you, and more importantly it can boost your child’s self-esteem and positive self- image. When you get home you could even have a little runway fashion show! The more enthusiastic and involved your children are in back to school planning, the easier the transition will be.
Designate an Official End of Summer
Get out those markers and stickers and mark an official day to indicate the end of summer! Make this day something special. It could be a final family summer barbeque, making a scrapbook, campfire roasting or water balloon fight- make your own family tradition! Share about your favorite summer memory as you create one final one they will carry with them into the fall.
Roll Back the Schedule
Begin practicing the first day of school routine. Modify bed time, wake up time and eating schedules to mimic school days. Slowly adjust the times to create a new routine that will aide in the fall transition for going back to school. Family Therapist and author of Connected Parenting, Jennifer Kolari, suggests beginning the roll back schedule two weeks prior to the start of school, changing bed time by 10—15 minutes each night. This will allow for the transition to begin before school actually does.
Look for “Blue’s Clues”
During this transition time, it is normal to see an outburst in behaviors. Children will exhibit an increase in emotional and behavioral issues. They have an increase in difficulty sleeping, crying and clinging and resisting in routine activities. They may increase in tantrums and even aggression towards siblings. These are all “Blue’s Clues.”
Empathize With and Listen to Your child.
Create a space to talk and share your feelings. Depending on the age of your youngster, sharing feelings can be verbalized or it can be with crayons and a piece of paper. Listen to your children’s feelings and do not minimize them. One of the biggest mistakes parents tend to make is trying to cheer them up. They need someone to listen to them and talk about the really difficult feelings and take the time to process them. Rather than be their cheerleader, sit with them and say, “Yeah, it is going to be scary to start something new,” or “I’m going to miss summer, too.” Talking to them and being there to listen to their pain is difficult as a parent but as soon as your child feels heard, they are more likely to explore solutions and move on, as well as come to you for support and help the next time.
Prepare for Problems
Get involved and don’t be afraid to ask for help. If your child is starting at a new school, visit the school and perhaps set up a meet and greet with the teacher to see the classroom ahead of time. Practice the route to school, or follow the school bus route if your child is riding the bus. Pack the backpack and shop for some supplies beforehand. Play dress up and act out school scenarios with your kids. If you can think of something that may worry your child, then prepare for it, and even act it out so they can learn the best coping strategies and build confidence with their favorite role model- you!
Give Extra Cuddle Time
Create time for extended connection and time together. It can be tickling, playing, cuddling or reading. By allowing for more connection between you and your child, you are actually filling them up. Think of a balloon, you fill it up with air so it can float and explore the world as you let it go. By spending special time with your child you are filling them with confidence and security which strengthens them when they go off to school. These extra tender moments can allow a child to feel less anxious and more self-assured when big change moments arise.
Teach Relaxation Skills
Take time to sit and relax with your child. Practice simple mindfulness activities to bring their attention to the present moment. An effortless mindfulness exercise can be “Leaves on a Stream” (free guided meditations online at marc.ucla.edu) or recalling visual images from pleasant experiences over the summer. You can use a photograph or item that captures the feelings of happiness and contentment. These can be helpful tools in teaching your child to access a place of relaxation or calmness when they feel upset or overwhelmed.
Help Kids Set Goals
Before you set new ones, review the goals from previous years and all the progress and efforts your child has endeavored. Talk with your child about what they learned last year, no matter the age! From holding a pencil and writing the alphabet to learning to ride a bike or passing geometry and making the basketball team. Emphasize the process, not the product. Accentuate the hard work and commitment it took to accomplish even the smallest of goals! Remind them that what seemed like the hardest thing to accomplish ended up being easier, and they learned a lot, too. The main focuses for goal setting with your child should include social and academic goals.
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Borchard, T. (2011). 6 Tips to Help Summer Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 6, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/06/21/6-tips-to-help-summer-depression/.
Griffin, R. Tips for Summer Depression. WebMD. Retrieved on August 6, 2016, from: http://www.webmd.com/depression/summer-depression.
Schuman, C. 10 Ways to Beat the End of Summer Blues. Parents. Retrieved August 6, 2016, from http://www.parents.com/kids/development/behavioral/end-of-summer-blues/.