Change and life transitions can be hard for everyone– children, teens and even adults. Let’s face it whether it was a big move to another city, a divorce, loss of a loved one or break-up we have all struggled to deal with change. If your hope is that your child or teen will grow up to be a successful, well-adjusted adult then it is important to start helping them learn how to not only deal with change but embrace it.
So why wait for a major life transition to occur? A new school year is a great time to start fresh and support your child– especially if they are starting at a new school for the first time. Think back to your first day of kindergarten, elementary, middle, high school, college or even at a new job. What were you feeling? Anxious, excited, vulnerable, nervous, confused, out of place? Those are all the same emotions that your kid might be feeling at this very moment!
So here are 6 strategies to ensure a healthy transition for your kiddo as they embark on a new school year:
Start each day with a healthy breakfast
This first one may seem a little obvious, but it cannot be stressed enough. If your child does not have the proper nutrients in their body they will never have enough energy or brain power to get through the day. So make sure that you keep fruit, yogurt or healthy granola bars (BelVita Breakfast Biscuits are my personal fave when I am on the go) for the mornings when you are running late instead of swinging through the drive-thru or skipping breakfast altogether.
Implement a daily routine (and stick to it)
Hopefully for the past week or so you have been getting the kids to bed at a decent time so they can start getting back into a healthy bedtime routine. If not then this first week back might be a real struggle in the morning. A healthy bedtime routine means going to bed and getting at least 8 hours of sleep. It also means powering off all electronics– tablets, smart phones and even the TV. If you are finding that your child or teen is staying up all night on their phone then it is time to set some boundaries and have them turn their electronics into you before bed. This may mean resorting back to a good ol’ fashioned alarm clock to wake them up in the morning. While this option may sound like an uphill battle especially for parents of tweens or teens– the alternative is a constant battle in the morning waking them up for school.
*I posted a TED talk video last week on the Empowered Wellness Facebook page: Why school should start later for teens if you would like to learn more about the importance of your teen getting enough sleep.
It may be helpful to use a daily or weekly routine chart with your child by using a template found on Google or creating one of your own. Just make sure you set aside specific times for meals including breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner as well as time for homework, chores and recreation. Using a daily schedule and sticking to a routine will also teach your child invaluable time management skills.
Set aside down time
As I mentioned above, it is important to allow your child free time for recreational activities during their afternoon. Just like adults children need time for themselves to engage in activities they enjoy so they can relax and relieve stress. Structured activities such as after-school programs, clubs and sports may be best for kids and teens who would otherwise be unsupervised during afternoon hours. If you are home with your child after school allow them to choose their free time activity (watching television, playing games on the computer or going outside with friends) but set a firm time limit such as an hour to avoid a power struggle.
Reinforce positive behaviors
Although many kids may be excited to head back to school and see their friends, some children especially those who have been bullied, have low self-esteem, anxiety or depression may be struggling to adjust and manage their emotions this week.
You can easily encourage them to keep up the good work and reinforce early on the importance of attending school regularly through rewarding good behavior. Did your kid get sent home with all of their stickers today or a positive note from the teacher? Then swing by the dollar store and let them pick out a new toy or allow them to play on the tablet for 30 extra minutes. The reward does not have to be expensive or time consuming. The key is letting your child know you are proud of them and recognize their efforts!
Empower through positive self-talk
I mentioned in my previous blog post that the first step to empowerment is through daily affirmations. This is especially important for kids and teens as well. The great part is there are lots of ways to make teaching positive self-talk fun for kids through arts and crafts ideas such as a self-talk flower or self-talk cards.
The best way to teach your child to use positive self-talk is to model this behavior for them. If your child sees or hears you using positive self-talk and daily affirmations then they will be more likely to do the same.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself
Last but not least, you cannot be a rockstar parent if you are not taking care of yourself first. The new school year can bring a lot of stress to parents as well with open houses, back to school shopping, after school activities and feeling like you’ve been waiting in the dreaded car line for hours. If you are constantly running on fumes, then you are not your best self and you are putting your health at risk. Take time for yourself, exercise, get enough sleep, eat healthy and stop telling yourself that self-care is selfish.
In sum, life can be overwhelming whether you are 6, 13, 19 or 40 years old. It is important to teach your kids (and maybe re-teach yourself) that the best way to deal with stressful times is to take care of yourself first. Then help them refine the skills they need to feel empowered and ready to take on the world– whether it is coping skills or life skills such as organization and time management. The more empowered your child feels, the more resilient they will become.
— Amanda Schofield, MA, Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern