Back to School – these 3 little words usually make me feel good. I find the summer can be quite long, after almost 9 weeks off, I am normally quite happy to see the back of my little darlings for a few hours a day, especially nowadays, after running our summer camps – it’s exhausting but rewarding work. I need to get a lot done in those precious school hours, and I need the head space to be me again!
I get a lot of children every September coming to me for life coaching, it’s one of the busiest months of the year. Lots of kids have had bad experiences in school with bullying and friendship difficulties, others have separation anxiety after spending a lot more time with parents, and some are going through big changes – a new class, new teacher, new school.
We have a lot of change happening in our house this year, – between my 3 kids (ages 5, 9 and 10) there are 2 starting new schools (a Junior and a Senior School) and a one in a new mixed-up class. I was quite surprised that my son Logan (5) has been struggling with making new friends in his class. He had been quite good at it up to now, so I’m being pro-active, I’m inviting some kids over to play and trying not to grill him about the yard! There are not enough hours in a new Junior Infants School day for me to even get this article written so before pick up time is here again, here are my top tips to help us to find more zen in our days, this September.
- Tiredness: being tired makes us cranky and sleep makes us happier, it’s one of the first things we learn as a parent about our kids -so getting the new routines sorted out as quickly as possible in September leads to everyone being happier. I become a Sargent major on bed times and screen time. Agree the time with the kids/teens, including what time they have to put the screens away. I need to give my kids a decent wind down before sleep – we all need this, and some kids need more than others. 1 hour should be enough to have some quiet time playing or reading in your room before sleep, but experts say 2 hours off screens before bed is better. My favorite way to get the mind to switch off is Paul McKenna’s sleep recordings on youtube. My husband discovered them and it’s the best thing to do when my mind won’t be quiet, to allow me to sleep. My girls also listen to them occasionally, but I recommend you try it out first yourself beforehand so that you are happy with the content.
- Anxiety: Anxiety can increase with tiredness and also with hormone surges. If you have a pre-teen or tween, the anxiety and worries may soar for a few days every month for girls as they build up into puberty. The best thing to practice with kids is mindfulness and deep breathing. There are lots of great apps and you tube recordings that can help. Bringing their thoughts back to the moment and concentrating on the now. When trying to sleep at night they have to be self-aware first, realizing that they are ‘telling themselves the bad ending of a story in their heads’. I teach kids to catch their thoughts and replace it with a more positive one.
- Screen time: I’ve written at length before, about how I feel about too much screen time, not only causing addiction and bad behavior in our kids, but also reducing their face to face social contact and connections with people. Playing, (and even just hanging out for older kids) teach us social skills, which are so important to learn as a child and teen, we learn how to negotiate, stand up for ourselves, make decisions, get hurt and pick ourselves up. I’ve had many kids open up to me and admit that they find sneaky ways to get back on devices after they’re supposed to be off them, some hiding them in their bedrooms/under pillows etc. (I know some parents who plug out the modems and bring them to bed with them!). We currently have a ‘weekends only’ deal with the kids regarding their tablets, but one of my daughters was found on her tablet on two separate occasions during a school day, so now there has been a one month ban. It’s definitely a happier house when they’re not on them or thinking about them.
- Reward the positive behavior: I’ve long been an advocate of reward charts and paying pocket money or giving prizes, for positive behavior we want to encourage in our kids. (If they aren’t listening and you want to get them to go to bed, or do their homework, or get out on time in the morning etc) It makes sense to me, instead of repeating yourself 10 times, to just link the thing you want your kids to do – to a reward, so over a few weeks you are changing their habits, (and saving your voice and frustration) – leading to a day out, toys, pocket money, special time with a parent, whatever it may be.. However there are times when reward charts simply go out the window when life is so busy. I’ve recently discovered an app called Rooster Money – the pocket money app. You set up your kids with tasks in order to earn pocket money and you can add extra jobs and if they do these they earn extra money (it can be as small or large an amount as you want.) At first I thought that you could order a card for each child (like a debit card where you transfer the money to, it teaches them to save and allows them to learn about money etc) but I’ve since found out that the card is only in the UK for now. The children can have the app on their devices (if you want) and see their balance and how to earn more money from additional jobs. It’s work in progress so I’m not sure yet if I 100% recommend it. (It still needs time and patience to keep it up to date) but I believe in the positive reinforcements instead of just taking things away and causing more tension and arguments.
- Friendships: A lot of the children I see in September are struggling with friendship issues. Either too quiet or shy to make new friends, or have had some problems with friends in the past or present and struggling to know what to do, or how to deal with them. I help them to realize that to make a new friend is not that hard. We have to do it throughout our entire lives so practice it every chance you get.. in its basic form its 3 simple steps – 1. Smile, 2. Say Hi and 3. talk. You can show your kids how easy it is by chatting to new people and being friendly. I also help children to figure out who are the good friends that they need to work on – make the friendship stronger by talking to them, inviting them to do something (playdates/ hang out), who are the potential new friends and who are worth letting go of and avoiding.
- Time: We all have to watch the clock with the rush in the morning to get out the door on time. I know some families write the times up a board of when they need to have certain things done in the morning… I like this idea of ingraining it in the whole family that by 8 everyone has to be dressed and eating breakfast, but 8.20 you need to be brushing your teeth and getting your lunch packed, etc etc Giving them the responsibility of watching the clock instead of the parents always getting frustrated. If you have a child that is slow to do things (I know how hard this is!) ask yourself what would help? waking that child up earlier? Giving them more time for each task? Or a reward when they keep up with everyone else? I think for me we have to ban reading books in the morning!
From my family to yours. I hope some of these tips have helped and that you easily find your way for you and your family to getting back into the routine!
Caoimhe O’Grady Tegart : Child & Teen Life Coach