Back to school season is upon us. Some children are already back to school and some are preparing for this adventure to begin! This can be a huge adjustment for our precious little ones. This year throws in a whole new level of adjustment.
Some children are going to school for the first time, some are returning after being away from in-person school for over a year, and others were in school but they have no idea what is going to happen at their school this year. The beginning of this school year may be very taxing for you and your child.
There are many things that you can do to help ease any anxiety.
Often our little ones do not have the words to express their worries, questions, fears, or excitement. This is why a safe place to let things out is important.
How can you help if they cannot tell you what they need?
First, it would be important to note that they are not trying to avoid talking.
I have spoken to many parents that get frustrated because their child has the words. It appears that they are not using them.
Having the words is one thing, having the actual connections in the brain that allows the child to control their emotional responses is the issue. The part of the brain responsible for helping people to rationally talk and plan things out is not fully developed until the age of at least 25.
Yes, you read that correctly! At least the age of 25 is when the brain is fully developed. No, you do not need to wait until your child is 25 to help them learn skills to be able to cope with their big feelings. This is something that you can help with but it does take a great deal of patience.
What can you do to help???
The following are some things that you can do to help your child deal with the big emotions they may be experiencing in the evenings during the first few weeks back at school:
1. Be prepared: Be ready for emotional outbursts.
2. Label the feelings you see: “I can see that you are frustrated (or insert emotion here)…”. Understand that your child will say “NO I AM NOT……”
3. Do not take the outburst personally: Easier said than done but remind yourself that this is not about you at all. In fact, it is because your child feels connected to you that they are able to unload their feelings).
4. Bear Hugs: If your child is one that loves hugs, meet him with open arms! The pressure from the hug can be very calming.
5. Have a snack prepared: Hangry is a real thing! Anger is the secondary emotion that we can see when someone is hungry. (I pack snacks for all family members, not just the children)
6. Plan a low-key evening: This is not a great time to have a number of activities to do in the evenings that your child does not love doing (I do realize that this is hockey season for many families).
7. Put your phone or other electronics away: This is the time to give your child your full attention.
8. Have fun: Engage in some fun play or roughhousing. Laughter can be just as therapeutic as crying.
9. Child-Led Play: Let your child guide the play with you for about 10 to 15 minutes. This is when you do something that your child wants to do and you follow what they want. Child Directed play rocks because it can increase your child’s feeling of connection with you.
If all of the above is not working it could very well be that you need to create space for your child to unload their feelings.
What does unload their feelings mean??
This can look different for each child.
This often means that you allow your child the opportunity to cry, scream, yell, jump up and down, and do whatever your child does without hurting themselves or others.
(You may have to intervene if your child is hurting themselves or others)
By allowing a safe place for your child to unload their feelings you are giving them an opportunity to rid themselves of toxic stress. I refer to this as providing your child with a Safe Place to Land.
What do you do after the feelings have been unloaded?
You take your child’s lead. Your child may want to talk the stressors through or they want to move on.
If your child wants to process their feelings, it is important to empathize with them and then you can brainstorm with your child. You will brainstorm ways they can deal with their stress in a productive manner.
If your child wants to move on, allow that to happen. It is the same thing that happens when we as adults will vent our friends. We may drop a few f-bombs. After we are done talking we feel ready to move and do not have a need to discuss things at that time.
A little while after the meltdown or unloading happens, you can thank your child for letting you know how they were feeling and provide them with a few things they can try to reduce their stress.
Over the first few weeks of school be prepared to be the safe place for your child to land when needed and engage in lots of family time with low expectations.
Slowly over time, you will see a major reduction in your child’s emotional reactions. This will be your cue that your child is beginning to adjust to the new grade.
If the behavior does not change then feel free to reach out so we can chat (free 15-minute chat) about ways I can help.
The idea of child-led play for 10-15 minutes seems very doable from my end. But as soon as Scarlett gets to lead child-led play, it usually can’t be withdrawn from. If you try to stop the play, she gets mad and wants to stop and “doesn’t want to do anything”.
So a gradual withdrawal of your play with her may help.