As parents and caregivers, we often feel a mixture of relief and stress as the school year begins. The structure and positive activity that school provides can be both stabilizing and stressful. Each child is unique and has a different reaction to school. Here are four main ingredients to consider as you develop a weekly routine that fits your child and family.
Routine & Consistency
Routine is important for kids; it lets them anticipate the day, practice expectations and it helps us as parents to be intentional and accountable about what we are trying to nurture in our children. Kids who have been through trauma, chaos or transition may resist routine at first, but eventually it will help give them a sense of safety that will help them progress. The key is follow-through and clarity, so set a routine that is realistic for your family and communicate it clearly.
To avoid power struggles, try taking the most difficult part of the day (e.g., homework, chores, bedtime) and flip it around by offering an incentive. Again, be realistic and follow through (this includes allowing your child to “fail” to earn their incentive a few times). Using incentives may be a change of mindset but it can eliminate many conflicts while giving your child a sense of control over their behaviors. The less you are battling, the more energy you will have to give your child positive attention.
Well rested kids are happier! If your child is experiencing difficulty this school year, try getting them to bed a bit earlier and see if it makes a difference. Resistance to bedtimes and sleep disturbances are common challenges parents face, and caregivers of traumatized children will find sleep problems to be even more common.
Good News! Bedtime can turn around to be a special time of day for connecting with your child and building a sense of safety and security. Get creative to provide a nighttime routine that will address the particular needs they may have for their age, developmental stage, personality and history. Songs, storytelling, prayers, hair-brushing and reading are a few ideas. If your child deals with sleep disturbance, create a plan for when they wake up scared. Give them a combination of tools they can use on their own—hugging a stuffed animal, a low light they can turn on, or a reassuring phrase they can repeat—as well as a plan for how they can ask for your help and comfort at night.
Nurture & Connection
As obvious as it seems, we often forget how important it is to give our children quality attention. This means saying “no” to good things so that we can have family time, putting down our cellphones and turning off electronics. It means paying attention to how our particular child receives love and being willing to change to meet that need. It also means taking care of ourselves so we can be the healing and supportive parents we want to be. Each child will encounter different challenges during the school year and the more present and in tune you are, the more you will be able to see how to help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support but remember that your relationship with your child is irreplaceable.
Flexibility & Play
Developmentally, kids need varying amounts of unstructured time to play. Kids often work out problems and emotions in their play. Getting down and playing with your child can give you a lot of insight about their struggles, needs, and desires. Playing is good for kids and it’s good for you as well. Taking the time to delight in your kids will help you make it through many challenges.
Lastly, be consistent but follow your gut, your wisdom and your relational knowledge to exercise flexibility. It’s normal to have to readjust your routine when something is not working. It is important to approach all your wonderful intentions, routines and plans with lots of UNDERSTANDING and GRACE for yourself and your kids. As school starts, remember, we are ALL still students in the classroom of life.
Brooke Cone, FCNI Foster Family Development Specialist and Adoptive Parent