Transitioning Back-to-School: Survival Tips

Transitioning from summer break back into the school year can be a struggle for parents and kids alike, making those first couple weeks oh so challenging to get through. Back to school survival mode is officially started. 

back to school survivalHere are some things I have learned over the years that make this time of year slightly more bearable.

Slowly bring back structure 1-2 weeks before the first day of school.

My family loses all structure and routine during the summer months. We don’t have defined times for meals, bed, or even coming into the house at night. Days and evenings lose all time. This is *very* different from our routine during the school year, so it takes a bit of work to get the kids adjusted back so it isn’t a total culture shock the first week of school. 

For my kids, this includes prioritizing sleep and beginning to implement bedtimes and before bed routines again. There is typically a lot of complaining about this, but I have learned the hard way that when they’re too tired, everybody loses. Once we start this, it cascades into bringing structure into all of the other areas – coming in at night, mealtimes, etc. 

Snacks. 

Just snacks. That’s the whole strategy. 

Okay, but for real, being hungry can be a trigger for irritability, emotional reactivity, and difficult behaviors. This one actually expands past snacks to include planning for some nourishing foods before, during and after school to best support their bodies and brains for all of the learning and changes. I make sure that breakfast, snacks, and lunches aren’t *completely* full of sugar and have some nutrients that will set them up with a good foundation.

Plan to allow for rest/relaxation/connection at pick-up or after school.

Kids often hold nervousness, frustration, and other big emotions in all day, and then release it at home where they feel safer letting it out. It’s helpful in our house to allow time after school for relaxation, re-connection, and zoning out. This means allowing there to be silence, keeping conversation at a minimum (unless they are initiating it!) and holding my questions about their day for a later time (I’m not always good at this one). You know your kid best – what do they seem to need right away after pick-up? Is it reconnection with you? Is it alone time? Food? Let them lead the way…you can avoid a lot of conflict and disconnection this way.

Keep expectations low – for them AND for you.

During times of transition, behavior changes are to be expected. Plan for things to be a bit harder because everyone is adjusting back into a new routine. Kids are humans and after a full day of learning, socializing, following directions, sitting still, focusing, etc. They may have trouble with any of these things or more at home. I try not to take this too personally and cut them some slack while enforcing important boundaries and expectations. Maintaining boundaries that are typical overall is a stabilizing force – otherwise they’re having to adjust to another change in their environment. And remember that while you’re supporting them and dealing with what might be a difficult transition for THEM, it’s important to lower your expectation of yourself too. Let some things go, mama, you can always pick them back up.


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Shannon was raised in a very small town here in Iowa, but has long felt like a native to the Cedar Rapids area since establishing roots locally in 2005. She lives with her husband, Ben, whom she can’t live without, and three babies (yes, they are still her babies), Olivia (11), Henry (9), and Arlo (6) in Marion. The newest Wilson, Otis the mini goldendoodle, joined the family in May 2021. Shannon is passionate about relationships, meaningful human connection, and motherhood, and is incredibly lucky to get to nurture all of these interests plus some in her professional life. Depending on the season, you can find Shannon gathering with friends, watching her kid’s in sporting events (new sports mom here!), hibernating and binging Netflix, hanging with her kids (board games, anyone?!) or tending to her summer garden. Shannon is a creature of habit which includes eating eggs every morning, daily Starbucks and going to bed early. As a cold person, she loves sherpas and scarf-blankets as shirts.

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