It's that time of year again! Soon the leaves will be falling, and the days will get colder, shorter and darker. For many of us, it's a favourite time of year – Ah, yes! Back to routine! And the cinnamon-spiced lattes.
For kids, though, it's often a mixed blessing. They will see friends they haven't seen during the summer; some will be nervous, others will be happy and excited about starting a new year with a new teacher. And some don't like the routine part of going to bed on time and waking up on time.
Here are some tips for making the back-to-school transition as stress-free as possible for the whole family.
1) Talk about what they want to get out of the coming year
What I know for sure is that all kids want to succeed and feel successful. Typically, I sit down with my daughters and talk about what would they change or tweak from last school year to the coming year. My younger daughter and I sit with her last report card and have a discussion on how she wants her year to go, what her teachers say she needs to work on or improve, and what she really loves to do.
When kids feel like the goals they set are their goals, they are more likely to achieve them. Setting goals is a life skill that they will always have and need.
2) Talk about friendships
Most parents I speak to are at some time or another worried about their kids' friendships. Kids of all ages are nervous about who will or won't be their friend. And, if there was any form of bullying, some may be very nervous about going to school. This is where our job as parents is to mindfully listen -- without judgment and without interruption.
It's so important to hear our children.
Ask questions about what they're feeling and why, and ask if they'd like a suggestion. Sometimes, kids want to hear what we think and, frankly, sometimes they don't. Asking if they want input will stand you in good stead – especially through their teenage years, when they really need you to be a good listener.
If your child is worried about being bullied, encourage them to speak up for themselves and others. Bystanders and silent bullies are bullies too. Let them know that if bullying happens at their school, you and the teachers will find solutions together. This is also a good time to get to know their teachers.
3) Practice stress-busters: mindful breathing, heartbeat games, and body scans
Regular mindfulness practice can help kids of all ages (and us parents!) to stay grounded in the present moment. When kids learn the skills of self-awareness and emotional literacy, all their relationships – with peers, teachers and family – will improve.
Contact me at Mindful-changes.com for a free consultation on how to start the new school year using mindfulness skills for your family.
4) Spend time in nature's fall changes
Explain that there are other ways to learn about our world when they are not sitting in a classroom. Take them on a family Mindfulness Hike looking for signs of early fall.
The outdoors has a wonderful way of calming our anxieties. It's a great way to re-connect and disconnect from our devices. Making a habit of exploring the outdoors, even in our own backyards, can be a wonderful way to enjoy time with family.
5) Plan for less screen time
As parents we are a bit more lenient in the amount of screen time for games and TV programs we allow our kids during the summer months.
What works for me and other parents I've coached is to have a meeting with our kids and, based on their ages and how much time they need to be on their devices for homework, e-mail, and so on, determine together how much time they can spend on-screen during the school nights.
What works for our family is to have screen-free hours during the school year. Based on my daughters' activities and ages (12 and 17), we have all decided that between the hours of 4 and 7 pm, we are a screen-free household.
6) Help them feel prepared for the year ahead
Good study habits, and time management and organizational skills help kids feel prepared to flow easily through the new school year.
When my daughters were younger, we talked about what could be done better than last year, what would make them feel less stressed this year, and what would make them feel successful.
Now, with a pre-teen and a teen, our conversations about study strategies takes place during the shopping trip for new clothes and school supplies. It's an opportune time, as they are excited to start anew, and so happy to chat.
I also arrange to have a "date" with each daughter for the back-to-school shop, as that gives me time to re-connect and give some guidance for the upcoming year, and it gives them the space to speak to me one-on-one.
7) Talk about extra-curricular activities
Depending upon the ages of your children, they may or may not get to choose the activities they participate in at school. Choosing what they are good at or interested in helps kids feel positive and even excited about the new school year.
It's also a great idea to sit down with the local community centre leisure guide and go through all the different activities and leadership training (for older kids), and/or team sports that might interest them.
Be sure not to over-schedule their days, and leave time for those mindful moments with our children to connect and communicate and talk about themselves.
8) Let them know that they have your emotional and logistical support
This is especially important for older kids who must take responsibility for managing their own tasks and organizing their out-of-school schedules.
9) Have a family bulletin board
Boards are fun and easy to make, and can be anything from class schedules to reminders of chores to be done before and after school.
I start our family bulletin board when organizing their study spaces. Who doesn't love inspirational quotes and success strategies? So, at the beginning of the year, I start them off with quotes that might influence their sub-conscious minds.
10) Have a family games or puzzle night during the school week
I've learned that my daughters will not talk if I say, "Let's have a meeting," so I pull out a board game or a puzzle, pop some popcorn, lay out the snacks -- and we just play and chat.
I start the conversation with what made me happy that week, what made me laugh, what made me sad or anxious. I might mention what I'm thinking about these days -- a book I've read, a documentary I've seen, or a quote I've come across. Then I ask them the same questions.
The "chat" becomes an important conversation where we talk about our feelings, both mine and theirs.