Back-to-school season can be an emotional rollercoaster ride for parents and kids alike.
On the one hand, there’s all the excitement and activity that tends to accompany the start of a new school year. (New binders! New running shoes! A new backpack!)
But, at the same time, there can be a feeling of sadness, as parents and kids are forced to acknowledge the fact that summer is really-and-truly winding down. (Goodbye, summer evening marshmallow roasts. Hello, early morning school bus rides….)
What follows are some tips on minimizing the stress of back-to-school season and savouring what’s left of summer — the focus of my most recent weekend parenting column for CBC Radio.
Take solace in the fact that you’re not the only parent who finds back-to-school season stressful
A lot of parents find it to be a challenging time of year — and for good reason. It’s a busy time of year and it’s an expensive time of year. Kids have a habit of growing, so September is often wardrobe replenishment season on top of school supply purchasing season. Add to that the fact that the refrigerator needs to be stocked with the fixings for lunches and snacks and the fact that there can be hefty sign-up fees associated with various extracurricular activities and you can see why many parents begin to feel like they’re running a back-to-school marathon—an endurance marathon that is largely about emptying their wallets.
Resist the temptation to set the bar impossibly high for yourself
At this time of year, there can be a lot of pressure to get things organized. Super-organized, in fact. It can be easy to set the bar impossibly high for yourself—to tell yourself things like, “This will be the year when we finally have our act parenting completely together.” “This will be the year when every single school permission form and library book are returned on time.” “This will be the year when the gym clothes magically hop inside the backpacks each and every gym day.” Yep, it’s the stuff of which back-to-school fantasies are made and it can be a considerable source of back-to-school stress.
Calm yourself; calm your child
Parents have the opportunity to set the emotional tone for the entire family during back-to-school season. If you’re stressed out, your child is likely to pick up on and respond to those feelings. So the best way to keep your child from spinning out of control is to manage your own stress level.
This is something I was talking with Jenny Raspberry about recently. She’s the mother of two school-aged children. And she says that parents actually make back-to-school season harder on themselves if they leave all the preparations to the very last minute. Her best advice? Pace yourself! “Try to do a little bit at a time: Okay, does everybody have a backpack? Great! Okay, we need to make sure that everybody has a lunch bag. Okay. Maybe a couple of days later, you’re making sure that everyone has their water bottle. The more the parents are rushed and stressed, the more the children will pick up on that and act out accordingly.”
And the more likely it is that there will be tears at the bus stop on the first morning of school….
Reach out to your parenting “village” for support
Look for opportunities to share some of the back-to-school workload and to “be the village” for one another’s kids. Maybe you could take turns walking your kids back and forth to school. Maybe you could team up to plan a back-to-school picnic or barbecue (a fun way to take care of dinner during that busy and exhausting first week back at school). You can probably think of countless other ways you could join forces with other families.
Accept the fact that there will be a few back-to-school road bumps
Switching from your family’s summer to school-year routine can be challenging for all concerned. Personally, I have found that things tend to hit rock bottom on the Friday of the first week back to school. At that point, the adrenaline and excitement associated with the start of a new school year has started to wear off and everyone’s starting to feel tired—really tired—and really grumpy, too.
The good news is that you have the opportunity to help dial down that stress, both by accepting that change can be hard and by treating both yourself and your kids with compassion as you ride the rollercoaster that is back to school. It’s hard for them and it’s hard for us, but we can get through this transition together.
Resist the temptation to jam-pack your family’s schedule with a whole bunch of fabulous-sounding extracurricular activities
At this time of year, they all sound fabulous. But it’s important to be realistic about how many extra-curricular activities you and your kids can reasonably handle at one time.
Instead of just telling yourself, “It’s okay. I’ll find a way to make this work,” stop to consider how happy or how exhausted you are likely to feel a month or two from now if you actually try to shoehorn all these different activities into your family’s schedule.
How will “November you” feel about the commitments that “September you” is busy making right now?
Savour what’s left of summer
Yes, another school year is starting, but that doesn’t mean that summer is about to pack up its bags and leave town. If past years are any indication, the good weather should be sticking around for at least a little while longer. But we definitely want to make the most of it, while it’s still here. That means taking full advantage of the evenings and weekends; and heading outdoors as often as you can. It means zeroing in on the things that you and your kids you love most about summer and then figuring out how to continue to enjoy those experiences even after the school year starts again. It doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated. It’s simply about having fun together and about making a conscious decision to carry “the best of summer” forward into the new school year.
Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about parenting including, most recently, Happy Parents, Happy Kids. This fall, she is launching The Village (a six-month online community of support and discovery for parents).