The heat is a great excuse for indulging ourselves and our children in free time, lemonade and of course ice cream. Summer is truly a magical time filled with less structure, more freedom and fresh air-filled adventures.
But as we dig deeper into August the reality of the new school year begins to emerge, and we know we cannot deny it much longer. Change is coming, and before we know it we will be right in the middle of September, or as we call it in my house “Stresstember.” We know we should begin to plan for the school year, but we do not want to let go of summer. We may lament the end of summer but there may also be some sweet relief when our children are back into the school year routine. The reality is that every season has its beginning and end and our summer is much closer to the end now than the beginning. So, how do we transition ourselves and our children from the summer into the school year without it diminishing our last couple of weeks of freedom?
1. Bring back the structure gradually. This should not be done with a heavy hammer nor should it be done suddenly. The return to structure can be done in a way that eases everyone back into the routine. Little by little over the next couple of weeks get the younger children to bed earlier, and up earlier in the morning. For your teenage children discuss the importance of structure. Be clear on your expectations, but do not arbitrarily make all of the decisions. Listen to them and get them involved in establishing a progressive return to routine.
2. Discuss change. Use this transitional time as an opportunity to teach your children that change is natural, healthy and inevitable. It is OK to be sad when things change. The reality is that there is usually some loss associated with change, but there are gains as well. Change is only your enemy if you fight it. Have an honest conversation with your children about change and ask what they feel they might lose at the end of the summer, and what will they gain with the arrival of school year.
3. Manage your own anxiety. I cannot stress enough how important this point is. Where we lead, children will follow. If you are anxious and stressed about the new school year, they will also be. Look for ways to take care of yourself first so that you are grounded and can guide them through the changes that are coming. Look for positive things, and keep your focus on the big picture.
4. Anticipate your child’s anxiety. Let them know that it is natural to feel worried about the unknown and that anxiety is just part of life. Ask them if they are worried about any particular things and let them talk through it. If there are concrete things you can do then put them in place. For younger children, a return to the school and a play in the playground can go a long way to decreasing anxiety. For older children, reconnecting with their peers can help ease the anxiety that a new school year may bring. We all want to belong, and bringing back the sense of belonging to their school and with their peers helps your child feel a part of the community again.
5. Out with the old and in with the new. The end of the summer can be a great time to do some practical reorganization. The potential of new clothes and a great looking room that reflects their style can be a great motivator to get your children to go through their stuff. Although there may be initial resistance to “cleaning their room” there is usually a positive outcome when they get rid of the things that they no longer need, thus creating a space where new things emerge. This can also be a good opportunity to teach them about paying it forward to others through contribution. If you do not get too heavy-handed it can be fun to go through the memories that come up with each item of clothing. For older children, be a resource if needed, but give them the space to organize in a way that works for them.
6. Technology can be our friend not our foe. Encourage your children to use technology in a positive way by using electronic calendars and scheduling tools. In fact, your children might be able to teach you a lesson or two in the use of these helpful applications. The end of the summer is also a good time to refresh and reset the use of technology and review your expectations with the children.
7. Focus on connection. Take these last few weeks to fill your child up with “you” and the secure feelings that come when your child has your attention and feels your enjoyment of the relationship. Don’t rush through the family time and spend some one-on-one time with your child whenever you can. This can be done though simple things like a talk and walk, or a family barbecue. Be present and enjoy your child; nothing else will prepare them better for that school year that that!