August is Back to School which means back into a routine, back to struggles with homework and back to being sick every month. Make no mistake, August and September are very challenging months for many families, but there are some ways to make the transition go a bit more smoothly. Remember last month we talked about the basic needs: Food/Sleep/Shelter/Medicine, followed by safety and relationships. The same principles apply here.
First let’s talk about the basics—primarily sleep. Over the summer kids often get out of the school routine, stay up later and play more computer games. When they go back to school not only are they in X-Box withdrawal, but they are also tired. Not convinced? Think about how just the one hour time change affects most people. Couple all of that with the stresses inherent in being a pre-teen or teenager, and it is totally overwhelming. People’s natural response to being overwhelmed is to either get control of it or escape it. Children often try to get control by rebelling. I remember, as a child, thinking that school wouldn’t come as quickly if I just stayed awake. When I slept, time seemed to fly by, so I would do whatever I could to stay up later. On the other hand, some children have just gotten used to a later schedule, so it is hard for them to get to sleep at 8:30 or 9. Believe it or not, our bodies get into a rhythm, and certain environmental cues can help us get sleepy. Think about how we help toddlers develop good sleeping habits. There is a routine—Eat dinner. Take a bath. Read a story. Go to sleep. Once they begin the sequence, the brain says “Oh, I know what comes next.” Some children are more sensitive to changes in routine in others, however, if you start implementing the back to school routine at the end of July, August will go much more smoothly.
Then come the homework struggles. Homework can be very difficult for kids after a long, tiring, stressful day at school. For many children, it takes all they’ve got to behave all day, and they need a little while to wind down, decompress, or just be loud and get out energy. Trying to get them to come home, eat a snack and do their homework is usually a losing battle. Make sure they have a time limit though. For example, they can have free time until 4pm, but from 4 until dinner they must sit at the desk and do their homework. Some children also find it difficult to get back into the routine of being independent, and will lapse into “but it’s too hard,” or “I have too much homework. I’ll never get it done.” This is when we, as parents, have to be coaches. It is far easier just to give them the answer, or do it for them, and, after a long day at work ourselves, that is very tempting. However, when that behavior is rewarded, it is very difficult to stop it. Create the safety for them. Encourage them to try to learn the material. Help them see that they are not stupid, and it is not hopeless.
Third, the sicknesses from the mutant bugga-buggas that all the other kids were exposed to over the summer/break/holiday. Your kids are going to go to school, hug their friends, play on the playground and share not only their memories, but also their germs. Our bodies are pretty adept at dealing with the stuff we encounter on a daily basis, but have you ever noticed how kids always seem to get sick right after a break. And by sick, I mean really ill not just fake throwing up. Well, there are a few things we can do to improve our odds. First, wash your hands often. Secondly, make sure everyone is getting plenty of rest, drinking plenty of water and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables. Vitamins A, C and E can help people boost their immune system. Third, and the one that people forget about is have fun. When we are stressed our bodies release all sorts of chemicals to prepare us to fight or flee. Why should we care about that? Look at the presidents before they take office and after they have served 2 terms. Most look as if they have aged 20 years, not eight. Stress takes a huge toll on the body. If you are having fun, you will be less stressed.
That leads me to my final point, all work and no play. . . If families go from all play during the summer to all work during the school year, it is not surprising that children resist going back to school. Set up one day a month that you can do something fun as a family. Movie night with the grandparents? Bowling? Camping? Cook out? Whatever works for your family. Try having each person write down what they like to do on a piece of paper and put it in a jar. Then, before family night, draw from the jar to see what you will do. Finally, find one night per month that you can do something just with your partner. Too often couples start having problems because they are too caught up in the day-to-day stresses of the family, housework and the like. Have at least one night a month that you can go out and actually talk in complete sentences without interruption.
This is not an exhaustive list of things to do, but it gets you started and might spark some of your own ideas. I would love to hear any suggestions you might have that makes back-to-school not-so-cruel.
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