Families will prepare kids to go back to school on Monday next week. What challenges will our children face going back? How will they feel and what will they do with their emotions? These are some of the questions I am reflecting on as I think about how families can best prepare for the change. We have time to prepare now and kids will do better when they are well prepared. Parents can act now to set up simple ways to support children. Part of what is needed is to prepare ourselves and to expect that there will be bumps along the way. Take time to prepare now, think of how to create a feeling of calm in ourselves and keep a predictable routine in place at home.
Prepare for the return from school, especially next week
Those moments when we see our children after school are important for setting the tone for the rest of the evening. Kids instantly sense how we feel in the first contact we have with them. When we are rushing, stressed or grumpy we might see our children acting out. We can act as a buffer to the stresses of the day when we adopt a calm frame of mind. Make a deliberate point to take care of your own needs and take time for yourself during the day. 20 minutes might not seem enough time to take a break but it will make a difference. As adults the events we are facing can leave us feeling overwhelmed so take time to talk to a friend when the kids are not around to get rid of negative feelings. When we get into a frame of mind where we are coping with what is going on kids are going to be ok too.
Sort the practical things
Encourage the children to prepare themselves. Kids are capable of more than we think from a young age. We tend not to give responsibility as we can do things faster and easier than them. And there is less mess! Ask them questions about what they might need to prepare for school. Get them to find a box or a chair to put their shoes, bag and PE kit and raincoats near so it’s all ready. Kids feel good about being able to prepare on their own. Older kids and teens will need us to check in with them and ask them what they are going to do to prepare well beforehand. “What needs to happen here?” asked in a calm tone is a good place to start.
Change what you need to
Most of us will have moved away from our typical bed time routine so resetting it could be on the cards here. Everything goes better for families when we get into a good sleep routine. Good sleep supports our immune system, that’s important in a pandemic. Unexpected or stressful things that crop up are much easier to manage when we’ve had a decent sleep. It might feel like a hardship to give up “me” time in the evening but going to bed half an hour earlier can really help us to feel calm, alert and focused tomorrow. Check where your sleep routine is right now and if you need to gradually bring it back half an hour earlier, each night for a few nights. Good sleep = easier transitions.
Keep comfort in the bedtime routine
Bedtime is when little worries and thoughts crop up for many kids. Add an element of comfort to give them some support here. Kids can contribute ideas to this one. Children are good at choosing things to give them comfort. They might like Mum’s scarf. Don’t think that it’s too late for older kids and teens – they will often choose a blanket or a sheepskin.
Encourage steps in the right direction
Be realistic about the changes we are making. After several weeks at home it’s going to feel like hard work to move back into school mode. Expect reluctance a lot of the time and at times strong resistance. Revisit what will happen in the new routine and ask kids to tell you what they need to do – you’ll have less resistance. Ask more questions : “What is going to work for you?” Avoid accusatory statements like “You never….go to bed nicely.” and “You always…moan and make a fuss.” As with all things parenting we set the tone. Keep clear on the message – we have time to do this. Being an encourager involves noticing and mentioning when your child is adjusting well. At bedtime it sounds like this “You were in bed for 5 minutes longer before you called out to mummy.” Teenagers are likely to find it hard to get up on a cold and dark morning. Make a point of noticing when your teen is taking steps to get back on track – “I like the way you remembered to find your alarm clock and get it ready, without me reminding you.”
We are in for an unpredictable time in the next few weeks, months and maybe years. This time is a time to go back to the basics. We will have setbacks, just see them as that, a setback. Not a sign the world is falling apart. Go easy on yourselves and your kids. Our kids will have to get used to the changes so let’s make sure the one thing that never changes is the way we support them, all day, every day.