What is the end of summer looking like in your home? What’s it feeling like? Another big family transition is just around the corner– back to school!
You and your children or teens may be excited about getting back into the flow and routine of the school year, and you and your family may be anxious, nervous, overwhelmed, exhausted thinking about this change of pace. Anywhere along this spectrum is normal, reasonable, and understandable.
The truth is, transitions are challenging! There’s a certain energy of anticipation that hits, and as you begin to move into the change, you’ll likely notice various shifts in your mood, capacity, and energy. This is not a positive or negative thing; it just is.
Transitions require you to adapt and adjust. The transition from summer to school has the potential, like any transition, to bring discomfort, stress, and energy drain, even if you or your family feel excited! Furthermore, if one family member becomes overly stressed and begins to “flip their lid,” others will be impacted and will likely flip their lid too. Thus, it’s important to recognize and name the way transitions are influencing your family during this season and beyond.
You and your family have the opportunity to stay awake to your experiences in this transition, and there are tools and strategies you can implement to support the process.
First, I invite you to talk explicitly about emotions. As the parent, share how you personally feel about the upcoming transition out of summer. Consider describing what parts of the experience you are excited about, nervous about, curious about, etc. It’s okay (and even helpful) to address emotions that feel tough or challenging; this can help your child or teen understand that their sensations are normal!
With a stance of curiosity, you can encourage your child to share, too, by asking how they are feeling. Their expression can be done through many modalities that you might suggest as options, including the following: drawing scenes that capture their emotions; using a 1-10 scale to rate how intensely they are feeling a sensation; circling the feelings that apply to them on a list of different emotions; using thumbs up/down/sideways to indicate how they’re feeling; and so on. Let me know what other methods you and your family come up with along the journey!
Time Management and Organization
Brainstorming organization systems as a family can be powerful as it promotes contribution and engagement from all members. I observe families having great success with family meetings focused on this topic. Through the crucial brainstorming process, allow all ideas to flow, even if they are silly, unreasonable, or humorous. The goal of this conversation is to determine how your whole family will stay on the same page about daily, weekly, and monthly schedules, so a little bit of laughter will help bring cohesion. If you and your children or teens want some help getting started, browse Pinterest!
I also invite you to take time with your family to gather copies of academic, sports, extracurriculars, church/religious, and other calendars that influence the family schedule. Find a home for these calendars, as you and your family will need to reference them regularly. Maybe it’s a binder or a digital shared album of the photos, but it must be something that works for your family. You may also consider having each family member transfer important dates (days off, holidays, exams, practices, etc.) into their individual calendars depending on the age-appropriateness of these details.
Furthermore, tt might serve your family to create an ongoing routine of sitting down at the end of each month to add additional dates (events, games, tests, etc.) to the upcoming month’s calendar; this, of course, could also be done on a weekly basis instead. Co-creating the calendar is a pathway to co-creating family time and family contribution.
Incorporate School Year Routine
Additionally, I suggest creating lists that capture daily routines and procedures. Yes, this is also appropriate and helpful for teens! As you begin this process, ask your child or teen open-ended questions such as, “What do you need to do each morning to be prepared for school?” or “What steps do you need to take to get good rest each night?” Allow them to name tasks that are important to their success and personal comfort. Stay open to their answers, focus on listening, and refrain from micromanaging or advising.
If there’s something important they seem to be missing, you can remind them by asking, “Where does brushing your teen fit in the routine,” for example. As a family, write these individualized routines down and encourage each family member keep them somewhere they’ll see them. (This includes you too, parents!)
In the chaos of the beginning of the school year, it can be helpful to decide on a 1-2 activities or commitments that everyone will show up for each week. The goal of these activities is to promote quality time and connection. Plus, if they are agreed upon as a family, it’s easy to hold them as priorities and to honor them in the family schedule. Ideas include things like pizza dinner on Thursdays, morning exercise on Saturdays, or attending a religious service together. What would bring your family together on a regular basis?
Other Back to School Considerations
There are few other elements to consider through this important transition:
- Technology: Agree upon technology norms and limits as a family. You can ask, “What types of things do you need your phone for on a daily basis?” “What time should screens be put away so we can get the rest we need?” and “How long do you anticipate wanting to be on your phone for socialization or fun each day?” Help your children and teens make commitments and systems for their technology usage.
- Academics: Before the homework and projects hit full steam, it’s beneficial to explore opportunities for academic support. This can begin with browsing campus websites or portals, and it can progress to helping your child or teen identify the people on (or off) campus that they can turn to for help. For example: Is there a writing center? Do they know each teacher’s office or tutoring hours? Do they know how to log on to campus portals?
- Social and Emotional Life: Just as you and your family did with academic supports, explore and name social and emotional supports your family can access. This includes locating campus counseling and support personnel, discussing teachers or mentors they already have a relationship with, and considering extracurricular opportunities. Get my free download for building a support system here.
- Free Time: Discuss healthy, comforting options for after-school and weekend time. Remember to reserve and encourage time at home to rest, read, take care of chores, and simply be, as well as extracurriculars.
As you and your family take on the 2018-2019 school year, I invite you to come back to this list again and again.Know that you might commit to a certain schedule or agreement and find that it’s not working in a week or two– that’s okay! Come back to the drawing board as a family, discuss what did and did not work, and try another idea, co-create a new strategy. Adjustments are a normal part of the process. Reach out if you’d like support on this journey into the academic year.