Back to School Adjustments After Break

Jan 5, 2017

For many students like my son, Christmas break is already over and school is back in session. For others, within the next week school buses will once again be crowding highways and car circles will be full. And with the start of school come the challenges – the temporary pains of a new routine and busier schedule. 

As a play therapist, I am painfully aware of the cycles of children. I know what times of the year kids are most likely to struggle, and the months when parents are most likely to call to schedule an appointment. I know what time of day kids are most likely to be cranky or tired, and when they are the most compliant and content. Kids are in-the-moment beings, living exclusively in the here and now. Therefore, their attitudes and emotions fluctuate with the circumstances and environments in which they find themselves.

Change Can Be Challenging

So, as my son started school Tuesday of this week, it came as no surprise that for the last few days he has been a little out of sorts. He seems to cry at the drop of a hat. He has very little patience with anyone. He yawns A LOT. He is a little mouthy and quick to argue. And while the return of our happy and easy going son really cannot come quickly enough, I recognize the symptoms and understand the process.

When kids must transition, it takes their bodies and brains a few days to acclimate to the “new normal.” While some kids are very laid back and handle this well, others react behaviorally or emotionally to the shift. But know that even if you do not see evidence of the adjustment in their behavior, they are still hard at work making sense of the changes.

What Is Happening

Most of the time during breaks, kids are on a much more relaxed and laid back schedule. Bed times are later, as are morning alarms (if they are set at all). There is very little mental effort put forth for anything, nor is there homework. They enjoy time with friends and family. They get to have leisure time, without time constraints and deadlines. They largely forget about their school rules and routines and instead adopt the expectations of their home and parents.

Yet, the first day back to school they are thrust back into early mornings, getting out the door on time, pressure to accomplish enough assignments at school, homework assignments at night, teacher and school rules, and the overall awareness of academic expectations and processes. It really is no wonder it creates some frustrations and difficulties.

Effectively Managing the First Week

One of the most important tools for handling the adjustment phase with your kids is awareness of the fact that it is normal and temporary. Typically within the first week, kids are able to acclimate and school is once again part of the normal routine. But, here are a few extra things you can do to help ease the transition:

  • At least three days before school starts back, implement earlier bed times. This will help them get used to falling asleep earlier to ensure enough rest.
  • Allow kids to have 20-30 minutes of down time when they get home from school. This might include a snack, a drink, or just resting on the couch to refuel.
  • Monitor what they are consuming at school, to ensure that they are getting enough to eat throughout the day. Some kids don’t eat enough when they are distracted at lunch with their friends.
  • When your kids start to meltdown, determine the root. It can almost always be traced to one of three causes, but everything is exaggerated when there has been a change in the routine.
  • Be patient and understanding. I actually tell my son, “I know you just started back to school and there is a lot that you are adjusting to right now, but that behavior is not acceptable.” This diffuses the situation and helps you to realize that your kids aren’t just being difficult without reason.
  • Offer as much love and support as possible. Kids want to feel encouraged and proud of their behavior, so acknowledging their kindness, obedience, and helpfulness is crucial.

There is a reason for the expression, “No one likes change except for a baby with a dirty diaper!” Change is hard, and it requires a lot of resilience, coping skills, and regulation to manage it well. By implementing these tips you can save your kids and yourself a lot of frustration, while setting your little ones up for success as they get back into the regular routine!

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