All the excitement and stresses of the new school year are upon us! It is a huge transition to move out of summer mode for the whole family. If it is your child’s first year, multiply everything by 300! Here are some tips that have been helpful to families over the years that you might want to add to your own parenting toolbox:
Save the start of after school programs until the second week. Your youngest children, especially, will need some time to get used to the new routine. For the first few days they might be physically and emotionally exhausted. Good food and sleep are really important.
You pick them up on the first day and can’t wait to hear every detail. This will be hard for you…. but please… resist the urge to ask your child 182 questions about their day. Make some physical contact and let them know you are happy to see them. Give a hug, touch their hand or squeeze a shoulder as they get in the car and say, “I’m so glad to see you!”
Most children do not want to replay the day. It’s too much to go back and relive. They’ve held it together and done the hard work living each moment and now the day is in the past. Right now is all about coming back to you, siblings and their life at home. If you let them be, little pieces of their day will come out naturally after they have a chance to rejuvenate and you will have much more of a window into their school day than if you bombarded them with questions. Be patient. Be okay with not hearing a word until you are tucking them into bed. Really.
In the car or as you walk home provide a healthful snack and water. Some fruit or veggies and lots of water is just what their bodies will need after a long day. Lunch may have been many hours ago.
Next, head for wide open spaces where they can really move their bodies and freely choose what to do. The beach, a nature preserve, a big open field. Free play in nature will literally clear their minds and help them come back to themselves after a long day of meeting all the expectations of teacher and school. Bring a book or just sit on a bench and watch. You will learn much about how they need to decompress. Do they run around with their siblings or need time alone picking up sticks and drawing in the sand?
Once home as you prepare dinner make sure that art supplies are close at hand. Markers, crayons and a stack of computer paper or a big pile of homemade play dough is perfect. My grandkids have a habit of drawing as soon as they walk in the door. It can be a scene from school, totally abstract swirls of colors or the scores to imaginary baseball games. It’s the process of freely expressing themselves through art that is important, not the product. Through their art you might even get a peek of their day.
Some kids will need to “play school” using the power of their imagination to understand and make sense of this new world. After kindergarten my grandson would become his teacher and play out many scenes of how he perceived his 2 1/2 hour morning (in Chicago all kindergartens are less than half day). His 4-year-old sister and we would be his students. We sat in rows, and before even asking any questions he would say, “Grandpapa, Susan! Raise your hand if you know the answer to the next question. Come on get those hands up!” This kind of play may need to go on for weeks or months as a very heathy way to process all the new experiences.
If while eating dinner you still haven’t gotten a clue about their day, you could try the sage advice a former teacher and very wise dad always gives to get the conversation started. Simply ask, “Did anybody throw up today?” Well, maybe you want to wait until after dinner for that one…
Your usual bedtime routines are going to be all the more comforting. You might want to tell a story about what first days of school were like for you. Kids love to hear about your childhood. As they are settling down they might just tell you a story or two…
The keys to an easy transition back home after an exciting day at school are time to play and relax in nature and the opportunity to use their imagination to process through art and dramatic play. Happy back to school days!
© Susan Caruso and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2013
Photo © Haidor Truu and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2013