“STOP IT, JOSH,” his mother shouts from the next room. “You’ve done nothing but pick on your sisters this week.” “They were pinching me because I changed the channel,” Josh claims, holding up his arms to display the bruises.
If scenes such as this sound familiar, they’re normal. School is about to start. Transitioning from vacation mode to the classroom often causes troublesome behavior for many kids. Family and Adolescent Counselor, Dr. Michael Riera, confirms this: “Parents should expect general excitement as school approaches, but also some anxiety. Whether your children are starting kindergarten or beginning senior year in high school, there’s a good chance that things are suddenly more rocky at home than usual. Maybe the kids are sniping at one another or snapping at you. Little things become big issues.”
You might recognize why your kids are behaving this way, but they may not. One way to open the subject is to share how you felt at the beginning of school each year; fib if you must.
Kids may worry about re-acquainting themselves with peers they haven’t seen all summer, joining a team sport, missing their former teacher, being called on in class and not knowing the answer, not having anyone to sit with at lunch, going to a bathroom that’s down the hall rather than in the classroom, finding the right place to get picked up when school’s over, or getting on the wrong bus. They must learn so many classroom routines, teacher’s expectations, and rules to follow on the playground, bus, hallways, gym, art, library, music, computer, and for fire drills that it begins to resemble the game of bombardment.
To help ease this anxiety, the following are a few tips gleaned from my years as an elementary school teacher.
For younger children, try to visit their classroom the week before school. If their teacher is there, stop in to say a quick hello.
Don’t buy the requested school supplies too early, but if you’ve already done that, wait until the week before school starts to unwrap and label them with your child’s name. Then, help them organize their backpacks.
Shopping for new clothes and sneakers is part of the back-to-school excitement. Once school starts, the mornings may be cool, but the afternoons often become hot and sticky, especially in classrooms with no air conditioning. Save the sweaters and leggings for cooler weather.
Talk with your children about lunchtime. The cafeteria is one of the noisiest and busiest places in school, so often kids don’t eat their lunch; “There’s not enough time,” they’ll tell you. Practice eating lunch together at home within the school’s time limit.
Expect grumpy behavior when they get home from school. They’ve had a long day of following directions, having to raise their hand when they want to speak, listening, and being on their best behavior. They’ll be tired but they won’t admit it. Try to push their bedtime back a half hour and see how quickly they fall asleep.
Most after-school activities and sports start immediately. Beware of over-programming.
Girls are known for talking to parents about their day in detail; boys often need encouragement to share. Try the “Best/Worst Game.” Ask, “What’s the best thing that happened today?” Listen and respond, and then ask, “What’s the worst?” Accept any response, even if it’s an “I don’t know.” After you’ve played this a few times, you’ll be amazed at what surfaces.
These first weeks of school are a special time for your child and you, their parents. It can’t be fast-forwarded or rewound. Don’t wish for either; just relax, smile and savor the journey.