Well, we’re coming up on one month into the school year and the first cold is rampaging through our home. (Actually, the virus piggybacked its way into our house in the first week of school and has been systematically knocking out family members since.)
And then there are the after-school emotions that we parents all know and love. After a summer of camping, swimming, and unscheduled play – getting back into the structure and relationally taxing classroom leaves kids of any age pooped out at the end of the day.
That stress can make it hard to connect with our kids, especially when the emotional safety of home acts like a pressure release valve from six hours of holding it together at school.
Nevertheless, our job as parents is to help our kids navigate this real-world experience. That takes intentionality in the form of connecting – or reconnecting – with our kids when they return from school.
Here are five ways you can do that.
Note: If your kids are in high school, you might think these tips don’t apply to them and I disagree.
Have a snack ready for them
Most kids use up their energy reserves at school. They don’t always eat their full lunch and they rarely drink enough water. On average we only notice we are thirsty when we are 1.5-3% dehydrated but our ability to regulate emotions is affected before that.
One way we can help our kids transition from the classroom back to home is by having a healthy snack ready for them when they walk in the door. Foods that are high on the glycemic index are important because they don’t result in blood sugar spikes. (This is also why healthy lunches are important.)
It’s a nice, but possibly unrealistic goal to make the snack together so just have it ready for them to grab.
Make space to unwind
I know some families have strong rules about screen time and that’s good. But I also know that if I’ve had a day full of meetings and project deadlines, I can use 20 minutes to play a quick word game on my phone or watch dumb videos on TikTok to unwind.
The reality is there is a good time to just sit and consume a bit of media. Of course, there should be a time limit but give your kids permission to have some “me-time” after school.
Other options would be letting them shoot hoops, take the dog for a walk, play LEGO by themselves, or talk your ear off while they eat their snack. You know your kid and you know what will help them decompress after school.
Go easy on homework
I know there are a million different views on homework and how much is appropriate at different ages. So I’m just going to share my opinion on the matter – which is mostly anecdotal and not tested in a child development lab… do homework, but not too much.
I sympathize with the workload of teachers and the mass of curriculum they need to cover each year, but if an adult works an 8-hour day and then takes the evening off, is it really healthy to expect a child to do a 6-hour day at school plus a couple more hours of homework?
Of course, school as a “thing” doesn’t work equally well for all kids. I loved school and excelled at it (as much as I cared to at least). Lots of kids don’t. To be sure, if a kid messes around at school all day and needs to catch up on their assignments at home, that’s a natural consequence. But we need to be very cautious about expecting too much school after school.
In this, as in most things, good, open communication with your child’s school and teachers is critical.
Get back to a good bedtime routine
This one is obvious. If you want your kid to be able to function, get them to bed on time. And while you’re at it, get your 7 or 8 hours in as a parent as well.
If you’re a bear, you’re not going to be much good at connecting with your kids.
This is a blog about connecting with our kids. The first four points set the stage for you to do that. You will struggle to connect with a kid who is hungry, wound-up, stressed out from homework, and exhausted.
So take the edge off by trying the first four suggestions and then connect with your kids!
If they are having a snack – eat one with them.
If they are unwinding as they watch TV – watch with them.
If they are doing homework – be there by their side.
And for goodness sake, eat supper together as a family. (At the table… not in front of the TV.) If you need convincing about the benefits of eating together – an article on Parents.com says “A 2022 survey by the American Health Association found that 91% of parents reported that their families were significantly less stressed when their families eat meals together regularly.” There is loads of research into the power of sharing a meal as a family.
Connecting takes work, and the responsibility to make it happen falls to parents. Believe me, though, a bit of intentionality in this area will help you in the long run!
Wishing you and your family a successful school year!
Thom Van Dycke has worked with children and youth since 2001 and is a passionate advocate for healthy foster care. Together with his wife, since 2011, they have welcomed 30 foster children into their home. In 2017, Thom Van Dycke was trained as a Trust-Based Relational Intervention Practitioner.