September 21, 2022 | Emily Ford Sytsma
We are in the first six weeks of school. These early days are the time to set the foundation at school for a successful experience for all. Teachers are carefully teaching schedules and routines. Children are learning where to find what they need and how to take care of their work and the spaces they share. This is a time for getting to know each other and for building a community.
It is joyful work. And it is exhausting. Children often arrive home spent from the day.
Their fatigue is not just physical. It is cognitive and emotional as well. Information is coming to them throughout the day. They receive, sort, store and retrieve it as they learn and practice new skills. They muster bravery to take a risk and regulate their emotions when they encounter disappointment.
By the end of the school day (or even half-day), the children have likely used up all of their stores of strength and flexibility. Some children seem wilted and struggle to walk home or make a decision. Others are short-tempered and are quick to tears or anger over any small conflict with siblings or with you. Some are so overstimulated that they melt down completely at home.
How can you help your child cope after school ends?
Get More ZZZZ’s: Children may need a little more sleep now than they did a few weeks ago. Remember that young children need 10-13 hours of sleep each day. Think about moving bedtime routines a little earlier in this season. Protect those hours of sleep!
Connection: Children may need to reconnect with you when they return from home. If your child is seeking your attention at the end of the day, plan proactively to spend 20 or 30 minutes playing a game or reading a book together. Time with a sibling may meet this need as well. Or find time within the week for a Zoom or park play date with a friend favorite friend.
Sensory Input Reset: Sensory input can be a little like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Each of us has a “just right” place that is probably too much for some and too little for others.
Stories: Sometimes the best way to recoup after heavy brain work is to get lost in a story. If stories are life-giving to your child, think about how to make it a special part of the time after school. It may just mean planning for a time with books (stories read aloud or alone time to look at books) after your child’s after-school snack. If you do not have time, look for videos of stories read aloud. Or perhaps you would like to start a new chapter book series and read one chapter after school each day. Maybe it is finding a child-friendly podcast to enjoy together or adding some audiobooks to your child’s story collection and letting them listen while they play.
Move! Plan for some family exercise time in a way that works for your family. Maybe you do a yoga video together after school. Or toss a ball in the yard. Or commit to walking to and from school or to going for a walk after learning activities end.
This is a great time to remind families that children need to walk. Children who are ready for school are ready to cut way back on stroller use. Try scooters and bicycles as a next step if the walk to school feels too far for your child.
Relax: What helps your family relax?
One thing we know about humans, even little ones, is that we are built for resilience and adaptability. In a few weeks many new things will feel more normal and we will all have built stamina for this new way of spending our days. Remind the children (and yourselves) that they have done hard things before. And intentionally seek ways during the transition for everyone to feel restored.