Helping kids with back-to-school transitions

Going back to school after the summer can be a difficult transition for kids.

It can be especially hard for a child who’s entering a full-day kindergarten after being in a part-time preschool program the year before. The first few weeks of school may be especially trying, as it is a new routine and children are getting used to a new environment and new set of rules, but parents can help ease the transition into school.

The school day is a long day for young children and they will likely have many emotional needs when they get home. Kids may come home acting moody or cranky. Often, they’re also tired from the long day or could be hungry. The change in routine is also difficult for some children, and being away from home all day can be stressful.

Many children hold in their emotions all day while at school, so when they get home into an environment that feels like a safe space for them, those emotions tend to come out in full force.

As we work to respond to our children’s needs in a way that strengthens our relationship with them, it’s important to try to be patient and understanding of these emotions and to recognize why children are feeling this way. If these emotions lead to misbehavior, we can stay connected by acknowledging the feelings, connecting with our children, and then setting respectful limits.

Children all have different needs upon returning home from school, and as parents we may have to work to figure out what will best help our own children. Some kids need alone time, some may need plenty of outside time to run around, and others may need a way to relax and decompress.

When my oldest son entered kindergarten 2 years ago, I initially thought that when he came home, he’d just want to play with his toys that he hadn’t had access to all day or that he’d want to be outside. But all he wanted to do was watch TV. The more I encouraged him to play or planned afterschool trips to the park, the more upset and frustrated he would be that afternoon. It was a struggle for me to understand that he didn’t want to play and that he needed a way to relax.

I had to remind myself that when I come home after a busy outing, I usually just want to relax with a book. Then, I was able to recognize that he’s very much the same way. We eventually figured out several ways to make that happen. I was OK with television being one of those ways, but I didn’t want it to be the only one or our everyday routine.

Practicing Attachment Parenting also makes me aware of my children’s needs for connection and one-on-one time with me. This can be difficult when children are away at school for the majority of their day. By the time they come home, I’m already feeling tired from playing with my younger child throughout the day and I am almost ready to make dinner. However, I’ve had to make a real point to find ways to connect with them and to set aside time where we can play together.

We also have a consistent bedtime routine where I read to my sons and spend time with them in their bedroom before they fall asleep. Some days are certainly easier than others to make this happen, but their behavior, attitudes, and relationship with each other definitely seems to be better when we can make a point to be as attached as possible.

Sharing gratitude on a nightly basis

Before my children go to sleep at night, I have 3 questions that I ask them:

  1. What did you learn today?
  2. What was your favorite part of the day?
  3. What are you grateful for?

These questions have become a ritual for us as we have been doing it for years. We continue to do so even as we navigate the middle school days for my youngest and now are moving into the high school years for my oldest. I know we all look forward to this time of connection as it opens up a conversation that goes beyond the simple responses to those questions.

I have been surprised to find that the topic about gratitude is often the one that is discussed the most. There is an appreciation for all of us when we take the time to offer our thanks for something that happened during the day. My girls’ answers may be about a material item they received or a favorite food that they were able to eat — especially if it is a dessert — and I have found that is a practice for me to listen to their responses without judgement.

hands-heart-grainsIt is a gift for each of us to pay attention to one another in a way that offers a willingness to receive whatever the other person has to offer. I am thankful for this opportunity to connect with my kids and for us to grow in our understanding that often it is the simple things in life that we are most grateful for.

Sometimes my girls give me the same answer for all 3 questions, and I am fine with this as I recognize that maybe being tired overcomes the desire to engage in conversation. I trust that they are offering what they can in the moment and that on a different day I may hear much more when they are ready to share. It is also possible that one event was the highlight of their day and the one thing that does answer all 3 of the questions. When I realize this, I am excited that they were able to engage in an activity that was filled with joy.

The time just before we fall asleep is one of my favorite moments of the day. I know that this can be a magical time when both girls are willing to open up with me and express what they are thinking or how they are feeling, which they might not do during any other time of the day. Every once and awhile, I have tried to get them to answer the questions over dinner only to be confronted with the comment that the day is not yet complete so I will just have to wait until later in the evening.

Over the years, I have grown to realize that this simple time with my kids is one of the best ways to engage in peaceful parenting as it reminds us what we are thankful for and encourages a dialogue that may not have taken place. I am amazed at all the events that they encounter in a day without me. I trust that they are navigating each experience with grace even when it is not so easy. I know that they will talk to me when needed.

As we move into a season where many families are expressing gratitude, I am reminded of how lovely it is for me and my kids to share our thanksgivings on a nightly basis.