5 Ways You Can Keep Your Cool While Getting Your Kids Back To School

When the mail arrived my wife handed me a heavy white packet, “this is for you”.  The return envelope read “University of Chicago”.  I felt a surge of excitement and fear at the same time. “Oh yeah, I’m going back to school!?!?” I was recently accepted into a fellowship at UC to study Advanced Psychodynamic Theory.  It’s a one year program that begins September 12.  The packet contained a slew of reading material I have to complete before class.  Okay. Deep breath.  I can do this.

Parents are Champions of Their Kid’s Academic Success

In a manner of days, kids will be trading summer gear for backpacks and heading back to school. This is often a stressful transition for parents.  From buying school supplies and clothing to arranging transportation and lunches, it is a busy time for parents.  On top of this, you have the challenge of helping your kids mentally shift from lazy days at the swimming pool to getting up early for school. Parents are champions of their kids’ academic success.  You do everything in your power to prepare them for a successful school year academically and socially.  Yet, the outcome is not fully in your control.  You watch them go out the door or drop them off at the school entrance and they are on their own.  You hope and pray they make the best of the opportunity before them.

Kids Are Not Often on the Same Page

Don’t you wish your kids would get on the same page as you when it comes to their approach to school?  Some kids do.  Most do not.  Afterall, they are kids.  They don’t see the big picture until later in life. In fact, some don’t understand why parents make such a big deal out of education.  It is easy for parents and kids to get locked into a power struggle. Before long parents can lose their cool getting their kids back to school. Let me share with you 5 ways you can keep your cool while getting your kids off to school.

Start the Transition Early

Abrupt changes are difficult on everyone, especially younger kids. Begin with earlier bedtimes and wake times.  This will help kids’ sleep patterns adjust to an early school schedule. Adjust the structure of the day to a format more consistent with the school year.  This could include eating schedule, in addition to unstructured time.  If your children are out of the habit of reading, it might be good to limit TV and video gadgets and spend time in a book.

Talk With Your Kids About Their Expectations

Start with their expectations.  Ask them curiosity questions and allow this to guide your conversation.  Here are a few curiosity questions to consider. “As you begin a new year in school what are you looking forward to the most?”  “What would you like to achieve this year that will make you feel good?”  “Do you have any concerns about this school year?”  “What some of the ways I/we can support you this school year?” In this conversation do a lot of listening and try to repeat a sense of understanding what your kids are trying to say.  Don’t assume you know.  Listen well and try to see it from their perspective.  Don’t give advice too quickly.  Your turn will come next.

Share Your Expectations With Your Kids

Do you know your expectations?  Are they clear?  Also, are they realistic? When you talk about your expectations, speak positively.  Don’t rehearse the negative stuff from the past.  Your goal is to instill two very important traits in your kids: competence and confidence. Competence has to do with the abilities you already identify.  “You have great problem-solving skills.  I like how you figure problems out on your own.” Confidence has to do with your belief in your kids to succeed.  “I know you have it in you to succeed.  You are not afraid to try things, like this summer when you jumped off the diving board without help.” When you share your expectations with your kids be sure that you explain why it is important and how it will benefit them.

Clarify Boundaries With Yourself Then Your Kids

For some parents, academic boundaries are fuzzy.  Too often parents link their success with their kids’ academic achievement.  This puts undue pressure on parents and kids about the outcome. Some parents become over-involved in the child’s academic pursuits.  This increases a power struggle between parent and child.  Battles over homework ensue.  In some extreme cases, parents practically do most of the homework for their kids. In the two-step parenting approach (step in, step back) I address in my book Bringing Respect Back: Communicating Without the Conflict, I outline an effective approach for parents.  The child/teen has a one-step responsibility (step up).
  1. Step in to teach your kids the value of an education.
  2. Step in to provide the resources your kids need for school each year.
  3. Step in to provide support in their effort to perform academically.
  4. Step back and allow the child to step up and do the work.
  5. Step in to provide additional resources when necessary.
  6. Step back and allow the child to step up and do the work.

Expect Some Turbulence Over the Course of the Year

Over the course of the academic year your child will go through some turbulence.  Undoubtedly, you will feel it too.  Turbulence comes in many forms: academic, social, physical, psychological, or emotional.  Your kids may get off track a little.  The key is that you do not derail with them. Keeping your cool is easier when you expect turbulence at some point.  Your kids can navigate through it if their co-pilot (that would be you) is calm, supportive, and resourceful.  Don’t take over.  Guide them along encouraging them to use their problem-solving skills.  Remind them that it is turbulence, not a catastrophe.  You may want to remind yourself of that first!

Check out a Back-to-School Vlog Next Week

I asked my staff to join me in a round table discussion to tackle school-related challenges kids/teens and their parents face today.  We will videotape this discussion and have the key points posted online.  It will be featured on LifeWork Counseling website.  If you are on my mailing list you will receive a link.

Now It’s Your Turn

Do you have some back-to-school tips you can share with parents that works for you?  We would love to hear them.  Feel free to leave your ideas in the comment section below.