As Cobb kids return to school this week many parents are calling my offices concerned about their children exhibiting symptoms of anxiety and other behaviors indicating this time of transition can be a tricky one. For many children this is a time of excitement and an end to a boring stretch of time away from friends and learning. For others it's the end of three months of free-for-all fun, vacations and sleeping in. Either way, it's a time of transition and parents can be an effective agent in assisting with this process.
In my practice as a therapist and parent educator I see how important it is for children to have a predictable routine that includes quality and consistent periods of sleep, well rounded nutrition and a sense of preparedness for the tasks of home and school. When any of these are lacking, I see children with anxiety and/or trouble focusing and feeling clear of mind.
I recommend parents implement a consistent routine from the time children get off the bus in the afternoon through the next morning when they get on the bus. Be certain your children know what to expect and have a plan for unforseen glitches.
I can't emphasize enough how important plenty of quality sleep in a consistent schedule is to the mental health of children. Be sure your kids have a pre-bedtime routine of an hour that is technology free and lends to winding down for the night before lights out. Be sure they are getting enough sleep. Their bodies and brains are growing so rapidly - 8 to 10 hours is crucial. Children often need to have their circadian rhythm reset after a summer of no schedule, staying up late and sleeping in.
Cut out all the sugary snacks. Make certain your children are getting healthy protein, complex carbohydrates and plenty of fruits and veggies for snacks and meals. In my experience as a children's therapist I have observed how a healthy daily diet helps children's ability to focus in school and keeps their moods stabilized much of the time.
Allow time for your child to unwind after school before delving into the homework. Kids often feel overwhelmed by the sudden pile of work to be done after a long summer of no or little work. Help them to establish time to relax (maybe 30 minutes to an hour) or get some physical exertion after school before hitting the books.
Give your child a chance to talk about how it feels to be back at school, but don't push. Ask open-ended questions allowing for them to share and just listen without jumping in right away to direct them or criticize. They need time and space to be heard. If they don't feel like sharing, just let it go and move on to another topic of discussion. This helps your kids to feel a sense of emotional safety when they are not pressured to answer questions.
Supporting children in the transition back to school has much to do with the practical elements of daily life: routine, nutrition, rest and space to be without pressure.
And don't forget parents are transitioning too! Attend to your own self care and give yourself a bit of space and time to make adjustments as well after a long summer.