Whether the transition is to kindergarten or college, this much-anticipated season of the year may introduce many feelings and behaviors. For parents or caregivers, teachers or friends of school goers, here are a few thoughts that may be helpful:
It is normal to feel nervous.
Everyone feels at least a little nervous when presented with new situations. Anxiety can be our body’s way of getting us ready for a change. Normalizing feelings may help. Children will soak up parents’ anxiety. However they will also absorb parents’ confidence and enthusiasm. Remaining calm and optimistic in the middle of transition is a gift parents and caretakers can give to children. Show them that you care and are interested, even if you do not have the perfect answer.
Some children can immediately recognize difficult situations at school, while others may be slower in identifying issues. It can often be helpful to role-play solutions using stuffed animals or puppets. Helping children make social connections with their classmates early in the year can also build relationships that reduce anxiety. Schedule a time on a weekend to meet friends from school at a local park. Spend time at school with your children (lunch is a good time) and meet their friends.
Be picky about after-school activities.
Focus on activities after school that are primarily fun and that also reinforce skills or developing interests. It almost goes without saying that too much overlap in activities can be stressful for everyone. Activity overload is an easy habit to get into, especially as children get older and have more interests. Carpooling with nearby families is one way to make activities manageable and ultimately more fun. Consider selecting activities based on the ability to carpool.
Create a homework haven.
Recognize what works best for your child. Is he more productive with a lapdesk on a comfy couch? Or is she more focused at the dining room table or at a desk? Holding firmly to the rule of no TV, Ipad, Iphone, or electronics of any sort until homework is checked is a huge part of creating an environment conducive to learning. Be available to answer questions and guide, without doing the work for your child. And if a certain subject is consistently difficult, move quickly to find extra help. Many teachers are willing to tutor after school. Sometimes your child will hear that message more willingly from a person who is not you.
Eat a power breakfast.
If you are not a breakfast eater yourself, you are probably tired of hearing that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It is certainly true for school-aged children. Eating a balanced breakfast helps children be more alert and ready to learn each day – and not only during testing times. If your children do not like to eat, try drinking breakfast. Making smoothies in the blender, sneaking in a little protein powder, may give your kids the extra boost they need to make it to lunchtime.
Put your time in the night before.
Evening preparation the night before is a sanity saver on school mornings. Have easy breakfast food options ready. Encourage children to pick out every last piece of the clothes they will wear the next day. Even socks and shoes. Pack as much of lunches as you can. Do a last scan of backpacks, planners and binders to make sure homework or papers needing signatures are ready to go. And by all means work out a shower schedule to which everyone can agree if there are multiple people that need to take showers in a short period of time. These night-before tasks are meant to be shared, not a just parent responsibility.
Tame the school paper beast.
Two stacks, and a big fat Family Binder. This is a system that can work beautifully if you stick with it. So when you are going through papers from school each day, immediately throw out the ones you do not need. Send them to recycling that second. Your pile will be smaller and less scary. Then make two stacks: one for things that need signatures or action, and one for items that you need for reference – like teacher contact information, curriculum requirements, etc.
There are many templates out there for ways to put together a family binder. Just search Family Organization Binder on Pinterest or Google and you will find many free downloadable templates for binders. It will save you more time than you can imagine if important information is all in one place and you do not have to spend valuable time searching. So get a hole puncher and put all of those important papers in one place.
Happy and Crappy
I have a house of all boys. Asking, “So how was your day?” got me absolutely no information. Their automatic response of, “Fine,” did not give me any answers to the millions of questions I had in my mind about every aspect of their school day. (You know you have the same questions.) Children vary greatly in how much they want to discuss. Follow your child’s lead. Kids can get quickly overwhelmed with questions. One thing we have found over the years that works better is checking in on “highs and lows” from the day, or our version, “happy and crappy.” Showing interest and support without interrogation is a fine art that may take a lot of patience.
Fresh starts can bring much joy and many opportunities for growth. Hopefully these ideas will be helpful as you navigate a new school year.