By Susan Dunn, MA, Emotional Intelligence Coach
All around the country along about now, the kids are going back to school. While it's primarily their event, it impacts the whole family, as everyone adjusts to new schedules and routines.
As you maneuver your way through this yearly adjustment, here are some tips to keep in mind.
WHEN TO LOOSEN UP, WHEN TO TIGHTEN UP
Establish the new routines consistently and firmly. Go over the new organization that's required - preparing for school the night before (clothes and supplies organized and ready to go for the next day), a sensible bed time, whether they bath in the morning or evening, getting up on time, cleaning teeth, getting dressed and eating a good breakfast, and being ready for transportation on time.
At the same time, relax about other things not so important. Remember that your child is under stress, adjusting to a new routine, new teacher, new classmates and classroom, and perhaps even a new school. You can let up on some things for the time being, such as keeping their room spit-spot.
Expect some regression in behavior. That's what we do under stress (and you may be doing it as well!). Your child may be a little more on edge than usual and more emotionally reactive. That's why being firm about the new routines are important. Allow for outbursts, remaining calm yourself.
They will also be picking up some new habits. Who among us hasn't had their child return home from school the first day with a lovely new word you can't believe they learned, and never want to hear again.
Go back over the rules of the road for your household, and the fact that "Freddy does it so I can too," doesn't compute. My mother used to say "If Freddy sat on a hot stove, would you?" (Eventually I figured out the meaning of this metaphor!)
School is school, just like work is work, but when there's been a hiatus, and when certain parts of it are new, there is always emotional processing going on.
Just as you ask your child for facts -- about their teacher, classmates, and subject -- ask them about their feelings. Then listen. Provide support and perspective as needed. A comment such as, "I hate school," should be investigated. It may turn out, as happened to me once with a little one, that the lunch served that day had been "yuchy," though everything else, once pursued, appeared to have been keen.
If you precede this with "How are you feeling about your new teacher?" you will get a chance to experience the level of your child's ability to express their emotions, and can help him or her sort them through, which is invaluable. Make emotional-expression vocabulary a part of your child's learning experience. Children as young as 3 can learn to respond (when having a tantrum):
"Are you angry?"
"Can you tell me why?"
IT'S MORE THAN GETTING A'S
As you get into the first weeks, check and see how your child is doing in their social adjustment. Friends and being able to get along make such a difference in their self-esteem, happiness, and ability to function well at school. A's are important, but children with higher emotional intelligence and better interpersonal relationships tend to do better academically.
With patience on your part, and instruction, and the passage of time, much of the turmoil will subside. Before you know it, you'll all be settled into the new routine!
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