Coping with September: “We’re All in This Together”, September 12, 2022

The stress that comes with September is inevitable, whether it’s helping your children settle into a new routine and schedule at school or saying goodbye to the often more relaxed pace of summer, acknowledging that life can all too easily get hectic overnight.

This year, however, brings a unique combination of challenges for both children and parents. A return to the classroom after two-and-a-half years of online learning will be adjustment enough for many families but it comes at a time when parents may be feeling added stresses due to the increasing strain inflation has put on the family budget and the daily headlines are full of worrisome topics that can upset both children and parents.

One of the best ways to respond to stress is to recognize that it is real and then talk through what is causing it. A child returning to a classroom after such a long time away from that routine may be anxious about the unknown – “What will my teacher be like? Will he/she be mad at me if I’ve forgotten routines?” or “Will the classmate I found intimidating still scare me?” or “Is COVID still something to worry about? Should I wear a mask even if I get teased?”–and a good, strong line of communication is the best way to begin to respond. Try to open up those lines of communications by asking questions  that can’t be answered with a Yes or No or one-word answer. Instead of “How was your day?” try posing questions like “What was the best part of your day?” which offer a better chance of a child responding with cues as to how the day went and where some of the stresses are. Instead of guessing what a child’s artwork is about, say, “Tell me about your painting.” Offer children opportunities to engage, and remind them in the calmer moments that you are always willing to hear anything, and that one of your responsibilities as a parent is to help them through tough times. (That does not mean, by any stretch, that it’ll be easy, but if your children know this is your philosophy, they’ll be more likely to come to you in tough times. We know young people are feeling stressed. If you have a sense of your child, spotting signs of stress will be easier.)

Remember that you are a partner in your child’s success in school. That doesn’t mean completing his/her work but it does mean checking a younger child’s agenda to see if there are any notes from the teacher about issues in the classroom or assignments that require supplying materials or some form of parental input or participation. While the nature of the partnership changes as children age, it’s still a good idea to ask your high school children whether there are ways you can lend support. If your child knows you care, he/she will be more likely to turn to you for help.

While it’s been frequently stated since cellphones became a tool that even young children own, it bears repeating: carve out non-screen time every day so that there is time for conversation or other forms of information-gathering and entertainment. That stands for parents as well as for children! As old-fashioned as it sounds, the dinner table should be family time, with no Google or TikTok allowed. The dinner table should be a place of respect and sharing, and if there is a dependable routine, children will feel safer raising thorny or scary topics. Even if you are shielding your children from the unsettling news of the day, they may well have heard tough topics raised at school, and if you know what is troubling them you are in a much better position to engage. And if they ask you questions about your own concerns, seek the right balance of honesty and the right amount of information to offer. We never want to scare our children with our adult concerns but should they hear you talking about the price of groceries or gas and they ask you about it, for example, it may open a window to talking about responsible budgeting or the importance of financial prudence.

Ask a child to help you prepare dinner or engage in another chore with you. Sometimes the most important information will emerge when children aren’t feeling grilled for details. It will also help model for them that chores are a part of daily life, and that we all engage in them not only for ourselves but for others, too.  Knowing that you enjoy and appreciate their help can be a real morale-booster for children, increasing self-esteem and a sense of responsibility.

Of course, you want to ensure a respectful and productive relationship with your child(ren’s) teacher(s), too. Remember that this fall will be challenging for teachers, too, as they get back into the swing of in-person classes with students who may need some extra patience.

Finally, remember that this fall will be a whole new experience for all of us. It may take more work for all of us as we learn what the new normal looks like. As you look after your children, look after yourselves, too. The saying that was on everyone’s lips at the beginning of the pandemic still holds: “We are all in this together.”

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