As summer winds down, my internal dialogue alternates between “I never want the sweetness of summer to end” and “OK, I’m ready to drop my kids off at school right now.”
I’ve always struggled to stay present in the moment when a transition is looming, I just want to rush to the end and get it over with. This year, I’m more aware of this dynamic and determined to squeeze the last shining moments out of my kid time before they rush off to school.
Here are my top five tips for making back-to-school a breeze for you and your kiddos.
Summer usually means we let go of our schedules and enjoy staying up late for evening events, with the long hours of light, and sleeping in later in the morning. It can be really tough to get back on track, but prioritizing sleep for kids not only helps them with brain development and learning, it also supports emotional regulation, patience and helpful behaviors.
Physical and intellectual development is dependent on sleep, so try to avoid waking your child up for school. Instead, plan to get them to bed early enough that they can get their sleep needs met and wake up feeling rested without an alarm. Most kiddos between ages 3 and 10 need 11-12 hours of sleep.
Try this: Five days before school starts, commit to an early bedtime and begin your bedtime routine about an hour before you’d like your kiddo to be asleep. It will take longer to get through, so be patient and focus on fun and connection with your child instead of rushing. You want to help their body calm and learn to go to bed at an earlier time.
You might say, “Summer sure is fun, but I have missed this sweet time with you in the evenings for reading extra books and snuggling.”
Embrace Beginner’s Mindset
Starting a new grade with a new teacher and new friends is likely on your child’s mind as the first day of school gets closer. They aren’t able to articulate their feelings of fear or worry, but it may be coming out in unhelpful behaviors. When your child argues, whines or even shouts defiantly, remember they may feel out of control and need patience and reassurance from you instead of punishment. One helpful tool in this transition is to talk about being a beginner, and help them feel reassured and excited instead of scared. Acknowledging that, at any age, our brains and bodies are able to learn new skills, meet new people and attain new abilities empowers your child.
When we are beginners, we will undoubtedly look foolish, fumble and maybe even fall painfully before we begin to feel confident doing this new task. Whether it’s learning a new language, trying a new sport or playing an instrument, it’s OK to look and sound, well, like a beginner. For some folks this feels truly awful and embarrassing, but it’s just a normal and necessary part of learning new skills, and helping your child see this fact from a young age is a gift they will take with them all their lives.
Try this: Normalize being a beginner.
Talk about difficult things you learned as a kid, and also more recently as an adult. Tell the story of when you were embarrassed and the thoughts that helped you get through it: “Everyone is a beginner at some point” and “I might look silly or feel a little scared, but I know everyone felt that way when they did this for the first time. I’m not alone.”
Ask your child to imagine their favorite athlete or performer when they were starting out. Think about what they may have looked like when they were just learning the activity for which they are now famous. You can find a “famous failures” reel on YouTube to help illustrate this.
Use “yet” by adding it to the end of disappointed sentences: “I just cannot catch the ball — yet.” At the pool this summer my 6-year-old often said, “I’m not going to put my face under the water.” And I always added a “yet” until she finally caught on and started doing it, too.
Control in Routines
Giving kiddos control is one of the best things you can do to help them feel more independent and self-sufficient, which often leads to greater cooperation. The key in giving them control is sticking to your normal routines and offering age-appropriate choices within them. An 18-month-old loves picking their bedtime book out, but it’s best if you give them only two options to choose from. Same with pajamas, snacks, socks, etc. You provide the parameters of the choice, and they get the freedom to make it. We have three flavors of toothpaste and a ridiculously large selection of crackers expressly for this purpose. This may feel strange at first, but the more you practice, the easier it is.
Try this: Give your kids options within your morning and evening routines by asking questions.
Which crackers do you want to put in your lunch today?
Which toothpaste would you like?
Which shoes do you want to wear today, the blue or the rainbow?
Do you want to wear your backpack on your front or your back? (Silliness is always helpful).
Which pair of pajamas would you like?
I found two books here. Which one do you think we should read?
Would you like to turn out the light, or should I?
Do you want me to sing “Twinkle” or “You Are My Sunshine” before I say goodnight?
Going back to school can be bittersweet for all: Teachers, parents and students each feel such conflicting emotions in their own ways. It’s normal to feel excitement, along with worry, and to see unwanted behaviors increase as a result of this all-encompassing transition. Now’s the time to engage your mindfulness tools; getting more sleep, helping kids feel heard and giving them more control in their routines.
As the angle of the sun changes and the season begins to shift, my wish for parents everywhere is to know you’re not alone in your overwhelm, and to use these tools so you can enjoy your final mindful and messy summer moments with your children.
Petterson, lives in Moscow with her husband and their two children. She left public education to become a yoga instructor, sleep specialist and to teach parents alternatives to yelling and punishment as a mindful parenting educator. Her newborn and toddler classes are currently open for enrollment. She can be contacted via her website at kristinepetterson.com or email@example.com.