Back to school blues? 10 essential survival tips
A new term beckons and so do the tears. Whether it's early years or teens, it's time for a whole new set of challenges. We find out how to survive (you and them) from parenting coach Julie Cresswell. Don't enter the gates without this A* advice.
Whether it’s early years or teens, heading back to the classroom for a new term can be incredibly daunting and all too often the fallout happens at home. Who hasn’t had the pleasure of frayed tempers over Biff and Chip at tea time? Teary tantrums over going to Homework Club again or anxieties over exams? In short, we could all do with a little advice to help beat the September school blues.
Step forward Julie Cresswell, an expert parenting coach who knows about solving sticky issues. We got her top 10 best tips for surviving the back-to-school struggle.
Hi Julie, what does Optimum Parent & Family Coaching do?
Family life can be a rollercoaster ride. We help parents to confidently support their child to navigate the challenges of family life. We give them the skills to step back, tap into their wealth of knowledge and find ways to make family life a happier, calmer and more connected experience – something we all want!
What’s your own background?
As well as being a qualified coach and a teacher for many years in a pupil referral unit I’ve been a foster carer for seven years with my husband. Our first ‘child’ was 17 and our second was 14! These experiences plus having my own birth children who are now 5 and 7 have taught me there really is no ‘one size fits all’ and what challenges parenting can present.
We’ve had many moments feeling stuck, frustrated and exhausted over the years. When, despite your best efforts, family life isn’t working well, your confidence is low and you don’t know what to do. Too often parents don’t realise what a wealth of knowledge they have, especially when family life is tough and they can’t see the wood for the trees, that’s where I can help.
10 Steps for beating the back to school blues
Whilst some children happily breeze into the new school year, many more find this transition much harder. This may last a couple of weeks or much longer. It’s remarkably common for children to struggle at this time of year. This can mean emotions run high and all of a sudden you’re dealing with the fall out at home, usually communicated through their behaviour, leaving you frustrated, exhausted and wondering what to do.
So how can you set them and yourself up for success? I can’t promise you 10 easy steps, but I do know taking time to pause, use your expertise on your child and prepare can help successfully navigate challenges the new school year brings.
Here are my golden rules …
1. Think about what your child finds difficult
Even if it’s their first year at school you’ll have a good idea of how your child responds to change. Use this. What do they find most challenging? Be specific. How does change feel to them? Using a combination of past experience and putting yourself into their shoes can give you valuable insights.
2. Focus on what you know helps them
Think back to changes which went well or what’s helped previously. Is it being near you and talking things through? Is it sleep or cuddles? Perhaps it’s play, fun and more down time? Identify what helps and use this to prepare for the wobbles. The more you have on your list the better!
3. Pin down what you know doesn’t help
We’ve all been there when, with the best of intentions, you do something to “help” your child and it makes everything 10 times worse. Like the moment you set a deadline to speed them up and instead your child gets stressed and takes much longer. Perhaps it’s reminding yourself, however frustrating the situation, getting visibly cross will only add to the angst. Being clear on what doesn’t serve you or your child may help you in the moment when you’re about to default to a habit which will only make things worse.
4. Ask yourself what does your child most need over the next few weeks
Find one or two words – they can be your guideposts as you look at your priorities. What springs to mind? Reassurance. Encouragement. Someone to listen. Perhaps it’s space to make mistakes and learn. Your answer will depend on your child and your circumstances. The aim is to be clear on what is needed so you can confidently make decisions which are suit your child. This is especially important if it involves you having to adjust your commitments, do things differently to those around you or make choices which may disappoint others.
5. It’s about you too – what do you need so you can be at your best
Supporting a child through change can be hard. It usually means using more of your own resources – time, energy, patience. What do you need to do to top yourself up? Could you take some things off your to do list or recruit help? Maybe it’s finding a mantra for the challenging moments or having time out for you booked. Looking after your wellbeing will undoubtedly mean you’re better placed to support your child.
6. Prioritise connecting with your child
Connection with you is crucial, particularly during a season of change and adaption where your child’s world may feel more uncertain. They need you to help them feel safe, secure and able to keep going on the tough days. Even with older children and teens who may act like they’re super cool connection is key. What are the ways you and your child really connect? How can you prioritise making this happen?
7. Remember all behaviour is communication
Your child’s behaviour may feel like a personal slight. It may arouse many different feelings in you, but before you respond remember that behaviour is a form of communication. Pause. Check you’re hearing the right message. If you were to put their behaviour into words what would they be telling you? Maybe the way they’re communicating isn’t great, but don’t allow the behaviour to drown out the message. Once they know you’ve heard and understood them you can teach them more constructive ways to get their message across.
8. You can’t always fix things
The urge to fix may be strong, but doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. What can be immensely helpful is having a parent who can listen, be a supportive presence and encourage you to work out how to solve problems. It can be hard to see your child finding a stretch difficult, but it’s also a crucial part of them growing. The challenge is working out what level of stretch is healthy!
9. Have realistic expectations
As an adult you’ve had much more practice at dealing with change than your child. In your child’s world the changes of a new school year can feel huge. If change can be hard for adult how much more so for a child? Are your expectations of your child realistic?
10. Build in support mechanisms
When your child is struggling it’s often really hard for parents and very isolating if those around you don’t seem to have the same challenges. It’s ok to find things hard, but it will be much harder if you’re struggling alone. Find people you can trust to be a positive support to you and your child and even though it can feel scary and vulnerable ask for help. Family struggles are very common, particularly in times of change, but these seasons also offer opportunities to teach your child valuable skills. Your investment of time and energy to navigate the stretch/support tightrope effectively for your child these experiences can give them skills which last a lifetime. Imagine in 20 years time watching your adult child navigating change confidently and positively. What a worthwhile investment to make now!
Want to read more?
I always highly recommend the “Yes Brain Child. Help Your Child be More Resilient, Independent and Creative” By Dr Daniel J Siegel and Dr Tina Payne Bryson for further reading.
Want to find out more?
Book in for a regular group and one-to-one programmes as well as one-off sessions. Prices start from £25 for a 2 hour group workshop via Zoom, up to a bespoke programme of 6 x 90 minute sessions for £750.