How can you ease your child’s (and your own!) transitions? Check out these 10 simple, but powerful steps:
- Sleep—make sure that you set your child up for success by removing all possible obstacles to getting a good night’s
sleep. For example, remove electronics at least two hours before bedtime; make sure your child’s room is completely dark; make sure bedtime is at an appropriate hour for your child’s age (did you know that kids ages 5-12 years old still need 10-11 hours of sleep every night?); have a structured and clear bedtime routine that you follow every night for your child; and try a white noise machine if your child is a light sleeper.
- Make Your Child’s Breakfast the Breakfast of Champions—most prepared breakfast foods are empty calories and carbs, setting your child up for a rapid energy surge, followed by a crash, just in time for his/her first class of the day. As tempting as it is to get out the cereal box, your child’s brain and body need whole foods, especially for breakfast. Think: scrambled eggs, lean meats, whole grain toast, and fruit, rather than waffles, maple syrup, and fruit loops.
- Create a Mindful Environment for Your Child’s Return from School—chances are that your child is tired, touchy, and overstimulated by the time they come home from school. Homework, communication, and life in general will go better if you reserve the first ½-3/4 of an hour to either
calming, relaxing music, reading, or playing a quiet game….or….a walk, race around the block, or kicking a ball around (you know your child best) before you try to get her/him to settle down to homework or chores.
- Make Sure Your Child Gets Daily Exercise—The CDC reports that children and adolescents need at least an hour of physical activity every day. This helps with mood regulation, sleep regulation, as well as strengthening brains and bodies. Many elementary schools offer physical education only once a week. Many middle and high schools only offer physical education during part of the year. Kids need exercise daily all year round. If your child is not active by nature, it may be challenging to get him/her to exercise on his/her own. Children are much more likely to exercise, however, if their parents are also active and exercise with them. Consider making an afternoon walk, or better yet, bicycle ride, a regular part of your family’s routine, and you will get less resistance to the idea over time.
- Rehearse Anticipated Changes (when possible)—while each school operates a bit differently, most schools have some sort of function right before school starts in which kids and parents are invited to the school to meet the staff and see the school. This is an excellent time for you to walk your child through their day…visit with their homeroom teacher (make sure your child makes a personal connection with her/his teacher, also), go see the music room, the gym, the lunch room (don’t forget the front office and nurse’s office). Middle School and Junior High kids can really benefit from going through several drills of their schedule, until they have learned their daily route by heart. This alleviates much anxiety for most kids, as many unknown factors become familiar. This also works well for a scheduled hospital stay, trip (the tour can be done virtually…check out Google Earth).
- Reserve One on One Connection Time with Your Child—Often a great time to do this is right before bedtime with younger kids, although other times will work better for some. When asking about their day, ask about something specific—like—what did you do in Music today, or, who did you play with at recess? For adults, “how was your day?” is an open ended question. For kids, it’s only worthy of a one word response…”good.” For preteens and teens, spending time together doing something they enjoy (not chores or homework!) will often open the doors to their inner selves and they’ll let you into their world if you give them your non-judgmental attention. Your child thrives on your undivided attention (even if they’re too “grown up” and “cool” to admit it).
- Get Your Child a Journal for Each School Year or Major Life Change—encourage your child to write in the journal every day, but don’t make it mandatory that s/he does so, this will just make your child hate journaling. As with all new habits, however, journaling will be difficult to remember to do w/o reminders at first. If your child is too young to write, ask him/her questions about his/her day and write down the responses in front of him/her. Later, read back what you’ve written to make sure s/he agrees with everything you’ve written. For older children, as tempting as it is, do not read your child’s journal. I can think of only very few, extreme circumstances in which doing so might possibly be warranted, but, for the most part, I strongly discourage this. You will eventually get caught and your child will likely never want to journal again. Plus, children’s moods change so dramatically and rapidly that, whatever they write in one moment is often not how they feel the next. It would be a mistake to put too much energy into their mood of the moment.
- Don’t Wait for Parent-Teacher Conference Time to Find Out How Your Child is Doing—teachers are generally available and mostly responsive via email these days. If your instinct is telling you that your child is struggling in any way, don’t hesitate to contact their teacher(s). Don’t expect them to contact you first. They’re dealing with anywhere from 20-30+ students, more in middle, junior, and high schools, and are very bogged down usually by the load. Don’t let that stop you from insisting on their time and attention for your child, however, if you feel it is warranted.
- Set Expectations and Rules about Homework Early –children thrive on routine…and homework is no different. Spend some time talking over your expectations and the house rules for homework and chores, so that there’s no confusion or arguments later about when and how homework is to be completed. It may help to write down the rules and sign the document along with your child.
- Be Prepared for Mood Swings and Acting Out Behaviors—even with the above preparations, your child may well be extra moody and sometimes behave poorly or unexpectedly during times of transition. Some children shows signs of regression, acting much younger than their years. It is important to be patient and compassionate with your child, but not coddle or enable the behaviors. Let your child know that you understand it is hard to go through change, but that you still expect courtesy, good manners, and age appropriate behavior.