Back to School
1. Transitional Object
A transitional object, coined by Dr. Donald Winnicott, is an item of meaning that can help a child navigate separation. Your daughter may have a special doll or blanket she may want to keep in her backpack. Your son may carry around his favorite toy. What about a transitional object you create just for you and your child? A special bracelet that has “Mommy and Daddy powers” or “Mommy’s kisses” on it. For the older ones, it may be a ring or watch that has some meaning.
Talk openly about this and ask, “What could I give you that will remind you I am with you throughout the day?” “Squeeze this and think of your happy place.”
P.S. Where appropriate, encouraging a phone call from the older kids can help maintain your connection during the school day.
2. Regulate, Regulate, Regulate
Who overslept? Who can’t get up? Who needs a lunch and a permission slip?
The less stressful your family’s morning is, the more regulated the kids will be for school. The more regulated they are, the more successful they’ll be! Of course, life happens, but what can you do to be proactive about this? Perhaps getting more sleep can help or engaging the kids in “prep time” for tomorrow. Either way, even during the most chaotic of mornings, be sure to take a breather. Yes, it’s possible — even in the car. Think of what your mantra will be for when you send your child off to school and repeat the following steps: lock eyes, take a few breaths together, and repeat mantra. Mantras can be anything from, “I am going to do my best today” to “Love.”
When the kids get home from school, be sure they have time to regulate before jumping into homework. Welcome them home with a hug, room to decompress and healthy snack. They may even need to do a physical activity to release some energy.
Additionally, start demonstrating and working on some healthy coping skills. One of the best coping skills may be a chat on your lap, a hug, or a heart to heart. For the older ones, encourage journaling (or other creative outlets), exercise, counting to ten, or an activity they enjoy. For the younger ones, try progressive relaxation, coloring/drawing, or breathing. Do these activities together if you can. Laugh and make it fun.
Hint: I’ve had families utilize a “Relax Box” at home and in the car (i.e. stress balls, sensory items, notebook, drawing materials etc.) that works well! If in need of regulation, prompt your child to utilize the Relax Box!
3. The “We” Time
Make room to bond — no phone, no television, no Internet. Whether it’s at the dinner table, after school or a half hour before bedtime, be sure to have a recap of the day with your child every day. What was the best thing that happened? What was the worst? What was most challenging? This is probably the most important thing you can do — create space and time for your child to depend on and trust you to help him/her process the day. Allow the vulnerability dependence. Open the door for it.
Remember: dependence is the road to independence.
4. Keep Healthy Boundaries
Kids need their parents now more than ever! In our world, where they spend most of their days with their peers and have a limited “village” of adults, they need adults to keep them close. Foster the bond and attachment with your children by ensuring healthy boundaries between them and their peers. It is crucial that adults (rather than peers) become the compass point for children and maintain the hierarchy between parent and child. In fact, following this list will increase your likelihood of remaining that compass.
You may want to explain, “Friday nights are family nights. Saturday you can play with your friends.” “I care about you and want to make sure we spend time together.” Put healthy limits on sleepovers and the Internet. Bring your child in when they seem to be pulling away.
5. Empathy First… Always
Remember when you were in school? It wasn’t cake, was it?
Who left a positive, lasting impression on you? I bet it was someone who “got it” or “got you.” Understand that school is a very stimulating and intense environment. There are academic demands, social statuses, children from different perspectives and homes, and many expectations. Put yourself if your child’s shoes before engaging with him or her. If your child comes home and says, “I was the last person to get picked for a team today.” Your first response should be, “That’s so hard. I was there once. Let’s talk about it…” Extend understanding, help problem-solve and build self-esteem.
Be sure you’re setting your child up for success and confidence. Sometimes our expectations are simply too high. Really get a feel for where your child is at emotionally and developmentally. Are the demands of the teacher, school program, or educational placement not practical? Are your child’s school and extracurricular schedules a bit hectic for his learning style? He may need some guidance.