This fall marks the start of our second year in The Children’s House, and even though this makes me an inexperienced school mom with only one year under my belt, I have learned two major parent lessons:
- First-year school germs are absolutely relentless.
- There is this thing known as the “after-school crash.”
I was not prepared for the intensity of either of these lessons, but unlike the germs, which you have little control over, you do have some control over handling the after-school crash.
What is it? In my case, it was a mismatch of expectations. I always knew change was unsettling for children in these early years, but that’s why I also thought that the morning drop-off would be the hard part and the familiarity of going home at pickup would be the easy part. It was the opposite. Afternoons were way harder than mornings.
The more I talked to other families, I realized this is a common thing. Children need to decompress after school, and so it can be an overwhelming time of day. So, there was my son at pick-up, feeling emotionally maxed out, and I would come running in refreshed ready to play 20 questions.
“How was your day? What did you do? Did you talk to any friends? What were their names? What work did you choose? Did you go outside? Did you eat your lunch? Tell me everything!”
After a few months, I decided to try some new family rules of engagement. Here’s what we started doing, and what we’ll continue to do as we head into another school year:
- Acknowledge. Just like it’s expected for us to feel tired after work, it’s expected for our children to feel tired after school. Putting this into words for my son was a huge boost. When he would start whining in the car ride home, usually provoked by his baby sister trying to engage with him, I’d help him identify with, “You worked hard today, and you were around a lot of people. It’s okay if you feel you need to rest right now, and I will help you do that as soon as we get home.”
- Be available. Afternoon pickups marked a busy shift in our routine. If there was going to be a crash in the form of a tantrum, it was predictably when we pulled up in our driveway. When I evaluated his transition, it felt busy. It was rushed to get the kids inside, rushed to make snacks, rushed to finish whatever I was still working on before I picked him up. I began adjusting my schedule in a way that allowed me to be present for this transition. Unlike active engagement, availability simply sends a message to our children that we are here for them, but that we also respect whatever space they might need.
- Don’t expect connection, model it. If I want my children to be open with me about their days, then my husband and I need to be open about our days. Now, our car ride home starts with me sharing what I did, and my husband and I further normalize this by sharing more at dinner. I find this shift to be much more respectful because it sends the message that I am not entitled to him telling me things just because I’m the adult. Instead, it builds communication between us as something that is reciprocated.
- Release the expectation for them to always “be on.” We expect a lot of our children, sometimes unfairly in these early years where we are so eager to nurture their independence. I don’t always feel like moving quickly in the morning, let alone clean the house at the end of each work day. So why do I expect my children to always be on it in similar ways? There will be times they don’t want to pick up their toys or help with prepping dinner when prompted, and it won’t be because of a lack of order or discipline, but a valid need to recharge. It’s nice to take strides in independence, but it’s also nice to honor where they may still want our help.
What has worked for your family when coping with back-to-school changes in routine?
About the Author
Jenna Wawrzyniec is a writer and Montessori-inspired mother of two children under the age of four. Her two dogs also count as children. Read more of her work at itslittlebird.com.
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