Thoughtful Parenting: Back-to-school juggling

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— Going back to school means more structure to your child’s day, but you might find yourself thrown into an overwhelming juggling act of homework, after-school activities, getting to school on time, refereeing complex social situations, work, parenting time schedules, paying for school supplies and fees, deciphering a new class schedule, meal planning, bedtime resistance and early wake-up calls — all of which can be big stressors.

Here are some ideas to help your family adjust:

Be kind to yourself: Remember that these changes are normal and that other people feel the stress, too. Once you find a rhythm and a routine, it usually gets better. In the meantime, it’s OK to give yourself a break and say a few kind words to yourself, just like you would say to a friend.

Communicate and strategize: If you have a parenting partner, talk with him or her about the different and extra demands on both of your schedules. Think about tasks that you must do versus those that can wait. Where can you use some help? It’s impossible to solve every problem with a perfect solution, so find an easy place to start.

Recognize that your child may feel stressed: If your child seems more irritable, excited or tired, he or she might be adjusting to the change. Consider starting a conversation by saying, “Going back to school can be stressful. It takes our bodies time to adjust. You seem more tired than usual. I wonder if your body is getting used to going back to school?”

Encourage and plan time to recharge: Kids recharge their batteries through play, either alone or with friends and family. Tell your child that he or she can expect some down time during the day and allow for that to happen. Make time during the week to do something together, even for 10 minutes, that he or she chooses and enjoys. Consider scheduling your own down time, too. For me, if it’s not on the to-do list, it probably won’t happen, and it’s arguably more important than doing the laundry.

Remember the basics: Adequate nutrition, sleep and physical activity are essential to healthy physical and emotional development and affect how you deal with stress. Ask yourself, “What can my child eat that helps them grow and learn? Is he getting enough sleep? Did she get an opportunity to run around, board, swim, bike or walk today?” How about you?

If your child seems to be having an especially difficult time adjusting to the school year or if you have questions, talk with your child’s teacher, the school counselor or principal or your medical provider. Resources are available.

Barbara Gueldner, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Steamboat Springs. She is a member of First Impressions of Routt County’s Early Childhood Council. Read her blog at www.successfulkidstoday.com.

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