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Top 5 Back to School Tips from Our One Heart Counseling Center Therapists

Back to School Tips for Families, One Heart Counseling Center

The first day of school is around the corner so we decided to round up our top tips from each of the therapists on our One Heart team. We want to set you up for success as you transition into the fresh new school year!

ONE: Take some time to set intentions and goals for the new year.

Nikki Eby, M.A., MFT, ATR-BC suggests being intentional this Fall. You could do this as informally as bringing up the topic around the dinner table sometime in the next week. Then set a reminder in your phone to check in to see how things are going at the end of September.

Or you could write them down, decorate them or do some art about them and put them up on your fridge so they can be there as a reminder as you move forward in the year.

Make sure to check back in with them to see if those goals or intentions need updating or if there is anything that you might need to do to support them like setting specific homework times, putting an after school routine in place, communicating with the school or hiring a tutor.

You can set your intentions as a parent too! Since you are such an integral part of the process.

TWO: Take some time to think about any new tasks your child or teen would like to take on for the new year.

Lily Tsutsumida, M.A., MFT, ATR-BC talks about the importance of honoring your child or teen’s development. Of course, it is not like your kid is begging for more chores. However, as it relates to healthy development, a sense of mastery, independence and agency is intrinsically valuable to us as human beings. It affirms growth and movement forward in life. It is empowering.

And, for you, as a parent, it creates that transition allowing you to free up time, energy and space to focus on other tasks as you transition toward being a parent of a more developed child or teen. That way you and your family are not in shock or stuck when it is time for your child to go to college or launch. They will have been building their skills along the way and you will feel confident that they have what they need heading out into the world.

Lily had a few ideas: if you have been packing lunches, does your child want to plan and pack their own lunches this year? For back to school shopping, does your child or teen want to take the lead? For teens, do they want to take responsibility for cooking dinner one night a week? How about learning to do their laundry? This could also come along with a chance for your child or to express what new freedoms they feel ready for this year as they take on more responsibilities.

THREE: Start getting bed times back on track now.

Adrian W. Hall, M.A., MFT, ATR talked about slowly reigning in bed times so the first week of school isn’t so brutal for either you or your children/teens. Just start setting a bed time/wake up if you have gotten a little lax, then move it up by 30 minutes each day until you get closer to your desired sleep schedule for school.

FOUR: Make starting school a celebration not a summer funeral.  

Anna Pirkl, M.A., MFT, ATR, LAADC says that going back to school is not something that she used to look forward to as a kid. To her, it meant two things: work and bullies.  There was no focus on any of the positives.

She says, “looking back, there were some fun things about school and starting again that I could have focused and expanded on. I could have thought about looking forward to spending more time with friends I missed over the summer. I could have focused on the teachers I loved and the opportunities to do fun science experiments, art and theater”. 

Anna adds, “if I could go back in time, I would have wanted to have brief discussions leading up to schools start about what I was looking forward to.” She says, “in Germany there is a specific celebration that happens when kids enter 1st grade called “Schultüte.” There are cakes, treats and small trinkets given in a special container and other fun activities”. 

Why we can’t do it every year?  How would your family like to celebrate the start of school?? Let’s set a tone that school can be fun!

FIVE: This one is for parents with kids who are anxious or maybe more highly sensitive child.

Chelsea Derossi, M.A, MFT, ATR talks about doing a test run. You could do this if your child is going to a new school or even if he/she is not, just to prime them for the transition.  Go the week or day before and take the route or walk the way your child would go on their first day. You can point out the classroom if its visible.  Or, if they are going to middle school, you can go through their schedule since they will be changing classes.

Another way to prepare would be to pick out first day clothes/shoes a few days before. If the clothes or shoes are new, this gives you a chance to make sure your child wears them for a little while so that they aren’t too sensitive to the fabrics. Then once you know everything feels good, you can lay it out night before so they have a calm morning getting dressed.

For yourself, Chelsea recommends having a plan for how to talk with kids at the end of the day.  Asking “how was your day” usually leads to “fine,” or “ok” and closes the conversation door. 

Instead you can ask more open ended questions like: “what part of the day made you feel most nervous” or “what part was the best or most exciting part of the day” or “what’s something you did today that was unexpected but turned out great?” That will help them process and make sense of their experiences. And, it will let you have an opportunity to help your child problem solve anything that is coming up sooner rather than later.

Which of these are most helpful for you? Do you have any to share with us?

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