Back to School Anti-tips
Maybe you’ve noticed that I don’t write many blog entries on parenting topics. I’m a parent. I’m not necessarily a parenting expert. As a pediatrician, I have a front row seat for viewing plenty of parenting-in-action, but I’m not going to hold myself out as someone who’s “completely got this parenting thing down pat, and should therefore share it with others.” I’m mostly just hoping that every day with my own kids, I somehow don’t make too many mistakes. Child health, that’s another story; I think I do a-ok in that department.
But today I’m going to dip my toe into the “writing about parenting” water and talk about school transitions. How does that go at your place? First day of preschool, kindergarten, middle school, high school, college… all the big ones; they can be really tricky. In fact, it seems like EVERY YEAR my 2 kids go through some kind of uncomfortable adjustment when they transition back into the school year. And it doesn’t just resolve overnight.
So what’s that all about?
Is it just the reconfiguration of the body clock and returning to a more scheduled, regimented routine? That’s part of it, for sure. Both of my kids tend to be night owls, so switching back to school year wake-up is akin to some type of psychological warfare. And the resistance is HUGE. I’ve never been great about following the age-old advice of starting to back up kids’ bedtimes and wakeups by 15 minutes every few days until they reach appropriate school year bedtime: life just isn’t that perfect. There’s a late soccer practice, or they have friends over and watch a movie, or whatever; but even when they were 5 and 7 years old, the regular goings-on of life just made it hard to be that structured. That being said, I do know a few people who have built their life around that kind of structure and it seems to work out. To each his own, I suppose. My kids also don’t like to eat first thing when they wake up (me, too) so ACTUALLY GETTING A REASONABLE BREAKFAST into them before 8AM is a bit of an Olympic sport at my place. I’ve just now learned that I can’t get my pants in a bunch if we all aren’t ready with perfect sleep and meal schedules on day one of the new school year. I’ve had to become more accepting that the process of switching our biorhythms back to a different cycle takes longer than I think and is a ride with a fair amount of turbulence.
But there’s more to it than just the physical piece.
As my kids have gotten older, and especially as they are becoming tweens and want to do more “grown-up” stuff, there’s a psychological tension between wanting to be kids and wanting to be older, and I think that’s harder for kids to sort out than people give them credit for. I definitely see this play out at the school year transition: whether it’s with academics or sports or the social aspects. My soon-to-be seventh grader is doing big kid math at a level that I didn’t start until I was a year older than him. And as a girl, I am pretty sure was more mature at the time. He appears to be cognitively ready to handle the content but cannot find his last you-know-what to give about being disciplined enough to get the work done. He wants to do it and it appears he can, but WILL he do it without recreating the Civil War between the two of us? Unclear.
Sports sets up a similar push-pull.
My middle schooler is on a fairly intense travel soccer team and often has weeknight practices until 9pm, which is kinda late for a middle school kid. Maybe it’s a good thing he’s a night owl. I get it that it’s OUR CHOICE whether or not our kids participate in these activities but this sport is one he likes and has many positive effects other than just physical exercise. But it’s a team with very grown-up expectations. My point is that he’s a 12 year old little kid who is now starting to participate in activities that resonate with an older age group. It takes adjustment, and I think everyone does it differently, facing each nuance as it comes. And the social stuff? That’s for a whole different blog entry altogether. Whew. At this point I simply hope that his social IQ will increase enough that he’ll agree to shower regularly, but I know some of his contemporaries are starting to get interested in girls, etc. They want to play like little kids, but also try on for size some of the things teenagers do.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that while I could list out ways to help your kids transition into the new school year—whether it’s taking your child on a “practice run” to pre-school before the first day, or spending a few weeks re-adjusting your kids’ sleep schedules, or rehearsing changing classes and rotating from A Day to B Day, I’m going out on a limb as a believer that easing into a new year with new experiences usually takes longer than you think, is more multi-layered than simply familiarizing your child with what to expect during the school day, and changing his sleep pattern.
A few preparedness activities that I think are worthwhile:
- Getting organized on the school calendar & trying to plan for scheduled days off.
- Making copies of medical records and vaccine info and the health forms that the school sends home at the beginning of each year to save time in the future.
- Together with your child, picking a spot where homework will get done, and another where backpacks/school bag will be kept.
- Clearing your own schedule as much as you can for the first week of school, so that you can be as available as possible for any unscheduled surprises.
Other than that, I simply say go with a positive attitude and a commitment to be a little more flexible than usual when things aren’t as smooth as you wished they were, and my guess is it will end up working out fine. Whether you backed their bedtimes up an hour earlier by Labor Day or not.
That’s my non-expert parenting advice for today. And I’m going to try to follow it.