Although some have already gone back to school, for many this week is a new week in a new class or new school. After the long summer holidays, you might be looking at this change with trepidation, especially if you or someone in your family find transitions hard work.
I have one of these in my family, and so I know it can be really difficult. I wish I could give you three tips to make time fast forward to a time when everything is settled. However, here are some things we’ve found that help us in times of change.
1 Be ready
Acknowledging the difficulties is the first step! Change is hard and this doesn’t make you a bad parent and your child isn’t a bad child.
Parents, let’s start with us – let’s get ourselves (as much as possible) into a place where we’re emotionally and spiritually available to help our children navigate these choppy days. This might be having an honest phone call with your Mum or a good friend, a walk in nature, an early morning swim/run, a yoga class or a longer quiet time. Whatever helps you to regulate yourself and be ready. There’s nothing worse than being caught off guard with a badly managed transition.
Being ready also involves getting all the physical things ready in advance so you can focus on the emotional things which can’t be done ahead of time. A friend once told me this was how she prepare for days she thought her children might struggle. She didn’t want to be making lunch or organising clothes and shoes in the morning when she knew she needed time to go slow with her children, so she did it all the night before. I’m not great at this – maybe you are – but it’s good advice for life, and whenever I do it, my future self is very happy.
2 Keep rhythms
Whether your family is super organised with charts all over the fridge or more sporadic like us, every family has its rhythms, things that happen every day, week, month and year. Keep those rhythms, they are the things that help us feel grounded and safe, especially when other things are changing.
Make sure you identify a few things which are going to be the same as you go back to school, maybe what you have for breakfast and where you eat it. For me, even using the same mug every day helps me! I find it’s particularly helpful to have really small but significant spiritual rhythms to include God in our day, preferable something in the morning and something in the evening.
I love using a Thanks Chart, filling in three things each day that I’m thankful for and three ways I’ve seen God’s goodness in the last 24 hours. It’s really quick and simple but it helps refocus my mind at the start of each day.
Maybe you can have 30 seconds or a minute of silence in the car or perhaps say hello to the same plants as you walk to school. Or maybe eat the same snack when you get home in the afternoon. If you drive to school, maybe have fun saying car prayers – looking out for cars which look like the car of someone you know and asking God to be with that person – or maybe it’s all about the chat and hot chocolate when you get back from school.
Whatever you choose, keep it simple and fun, allowing it to be a tool to help you connect together and with God, not your master or something to make you feel guilty when you don’t do it.
This might seem like an odd concept, but I find physical symbols of people’s love and of God’s presence with me are powerful. Currently, we have a red elastic band around the tap in our loo, which comes from the story of Hagar where she meets God at a spring. I’ve made a mini-mag with activities that explore this story, and it comes with an elastic band to put around your tap so every time you go to your ‘spring’, you can remember God is with you. I’m finding it a really helpful way to reconnect with God.
You might also want to think about a portable memory jogger, like short, one-sentence love notes in your children’s lunch boxes, or a little pebble or shell or felt heart that you give them as a sign of your love and God’s presence which they can keep in their pocket. I find a smooth pebble from the beach works well for this.
We also have a symbol on our door frame like Jewish families do, which we touch each time we come in or go out. It’s a way of remembering God’s presence with us when we go out and when we come home, embodying these verses:
You know when I sit down and when I get up.
You know what I’m thinking even though you are far away.
You know when I go out to work and when I come back home.
You know exactly how I live. Psalm 139:2,3
Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Deuteronomy 6:7
There, three things! We could also talk about reducing your schedule to only essential things (move that annual optician’s appointment to next month!), avoiding extra engagements, getting to bed on time, eating well and so on, but I’ll leave you with a recommendation of an excellent book which if you’ve not read it, you should.
Help Your Child Deal With Stress–and Thrive: The Transformative Power of Self-Reg, by Stuart Shanker. You can read more from Stuart Shanker about self-regulation here: Self-Reg 101 – Self-Reg