You may be seeing a lot of articles on the stress of kids going back to school. Yes, the summer has passed quickly and we’re changing seasons.
It’s true: parents can have mixed emotions about back-to-school time
Susan Bartell wrote an article for the U.S. News and World Report which reflects some of the stress parents feel at this time. So, it may be helpful for parents to read this article to recognize some of the back-to-school emotions they may be experiencing.
As the summer winds down, there’s much focus—including in advertising— on how elated parents surely feel about kids returning to school. In my real-life experience, however, the emotions of a great many parents more closely resemble sadness, anxiety and even resentment.
Gone are some freedoms of the summer
The long daylight hours with no homework and few structured activities give parents a break from working late into the night to help a child finish a project, study for a test or bake cupcakes. The start of school means getting back to all of that, not to mention the need for increased vigilance with things like sticking to a regular bedtime.
One mom, Emily—a patient of mine whose last name I’m not using to protect her privacy—summed it up perfectly: “I so much prefer the mother I am in the summer,” she says. “I listen to my kids, instead of cutting them off because it’s bedtime. I participate in activities with them, rather than driving them to activities, and I barely ever yell. There’s really nothing to upset me!”
The transition for kids can be equally difficult, which also presents a challenge for parents.
Of course, some children love returning to the structure and built-in social opportunities school provides.
But for others—especially older kids with heavier workloads, or children with academic or social challenges—starting the school year can trigger significant anxiety. This can result in trouble sleeping, bad moods or other negative behavior that parents must contend with.
As a parent, feeling emotionally strong and ready to take on challenges is important as the school year begins. This emotional strength begins by recognizing that negative feelings are completely understandable. It’s stressful to jump back into homework and resume a schedule that’s jam-packed with activities.
Regardless of what TV ads try to convince you, it’s also normal to feel sad about giving up the emotional connectedness with kids that the summer break offers parents.
If we dig even deeper, many parents (myself included) feel a touch of sadness at the start of each school year, because it brings a child closer to adulthood—a time when parenting is redefined into a much smaller role.
Understanding all these feelings gives one the opportunity to make changes that will mitigate them.
Start by really focusing on what you will miss about summer, and work towards preserving it as much as possible. For example, if you love the time to just hang out with your kids without pressure, build this into your life.
Designate weekend time, or even a couple of times each month, to play board games or go for a walk. Look for activities that elicit the same feelings as the beach and the playground.
Seek out indoor play areas, or just bundle up and go outside. Refrain from discussing stressful topics or using the time to catch up on homework. The activities may be different in cooler weather, but the time spent together will make you and your child just as happy.
If summer makes you feel like a better version of yourself as a parent, nothing should stop you from working on being that person year-round.
In fact, I recommend working toward that goal! It’s primarily about achieving a new perspective. The reason you might be calmer or not yell as much in the summer is because there is nothing “seriou” to get so upset about.
Ask yourself the following question each time you are about to yell at, reprimand or lose your temper with your child: “Will I achieve any meaningful, positive change?” I can safely say that your answer will always be “no,” because yelling doesn’t change children in the long-term.
Although it’s important to keep your child on track during the school year, there is no behavior so serious or egregious as to warrant compromising your relationship with your child. Rather, hold onto the more relaxed, less frustrated summer parent that still lives within you.
Recognize that your relationship with your child is always much more important than any behaviors you are trying to change.
This perspective, and the bond it nurtures between you and your child, will carry you right through until next summer.
This is good advice for parents…
who may be having some emotions of loss as their kids return to school. I hope what begins in the summer can continue all year long as parents anticipate the changes that a new school year will bring.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside