Wednesday, August 28

Managing the Back-to-School Transition: Week 2


Today we're featuring our second guest post from Terri Fedorenko, a dear friend of ours and an amazing counselor. She'll be focusing on how to ease into the back-to-school schedule without losing your sanity or your sense of humor. Last week’s post discussed the first strategy; today we will talk about the second and third strategies.

Last week, we talked about how the first step to easing into the back-to-school transition is to check your own emotional state -- after all, our children’s own emotional health is uniquely tied to ours. Once you’ve accomplished that step, here’s what’s next.

Our second strategy is to be prepared and come up with a plan. This will be unique for each family, as it is based on your unique personality, values, and season of life. This year I have taken some time to sit down with myself and God and figure out what is important to me and how I want to live that out in our family. In the process, I ask myself several key questions: What are my values? What do I want to see passed on and developed in my children this year? Which things or activities hinder, which help? What is going well and what needs to be worked on? Since my husband and I are the leaders in our home, we create the schedules. My children will not create a schedule -- at least, not one that benefits the family as a whole and probably not themselves, either, considering that their schedules would only take their own life, experiences, and desires into consideration.

As an example, here’s what I came up with for my top three priorities to focus on:

1. Take care of myself. This may seem selfish, but actually it’s like putting on our oxygen mask first or filling the pitcher of water before trying to pour into anyone else’s glass. We have nothing to give unless we first fill ourselves.
2. Take care of my marriage. Our marriage is the trunk of our proverbial family tree. If we are broken, bent, wobbly, or fragile, all the “branches” that stretch out from us will be, too.

3. Be present emotionally and physically in my family.

So what does this have to do with a schedule, anyway? Well, it prioritizes my schedule to include things like:
  • Spending time with God. Matthew 6:33 (NIV) says to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 
  • Spending time with my husband. Date night, date night, date night.
  • Spending time with my family. Family dinners at least three nights a week where we are all present (don’t worry, I feed them every night). Nightly prayer and devotions with each child separately for individual needs, development, and connection on every school night.
  • Exercising. Besides making us look better, it produces “happy” hormones in our brain that maintain optimal brain function, a sense of well-being, and alleviate anxiety and stress.
  • Eating healthy. What goes in comes out -- in more places than the bathroom.
  • Spending time with friends, whether it’s at church or in other supportive communities. Social support is important to a person’s well-being; therefore, choose wisely, as some people or things are simply a drain on our resources rather than a beneficial support.
  • Using assertive communication. Don’t allow people to trample you, treat you poorly, or overuse you. Effective communication can help eliminate these problems. Prioritize honor, respect, love, forgive, intimacy, and communication.
  • Making time for things you enjoy. Leave time to do things like painting, scrapbooking, skating, running, or playing. 
  • Making decisions about work/career. For this season of my life, I’ve decided to not have a full-time job, as I cannot be 100 percent in more than one place.
In our home, summertime is free, fun, and busy in a camping, vacation, missions trip, bike riding, no bedtime, sleep in, TV-watching, game-playing, sleepover, tubing, fishing, camp fire, lazy day, play sort of way. I love it! I would actually just like to do “summer” the whole year. I am a free spirit and schedules just are not my thing. Yet regardless of our preference or gifting, schedules are necessary for school time, and they begin with what is important to you. They bring a firm foundation to the family, increasing a sense of security and decreasing anxiety. Schedules, like goals, are most beneficial and effective when we write them down.

Finally, step three. Once we are in the emotional place and have our values and priorities established and our schedules written down we are ready to begin implementing the schedule. For our family, here’s what that looks like:

-We begin by adding reading and math back into the schedule in August. Yes, I am that parent. I don’t push this all summer as both they and I need a break; however, I do want them to re-engage their brain before the first day of school.

- I also start bedtime back up about two weeks before for the younger children and a week before for older children. Regardless of age, all students need adequate sleep (teenagers actually need more).

- We include our annual back-to- school “traditions” like:
  • Getting a new outfit or two or new shoes for the special day, as well as school supplies and backpacks.
  • Taking pictures: I love the fresh haircut, new outfit, sleek backpack, and the yellow bus in the background. We recently had a graduation party that included a scrapbook, and I can tell you those snapshots were among our favorites.
-If a child is anxious, I have several strategies to help cope.
  • First, remember your anxiety level and keep it cool.
  • Pray: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
  • Take them on a tour or attend open house.
  • Read books about the first day of school.
  • Be excited.
  • Listen to their fears.
  • Walk them in to school.
Back-to- school is an exciting sign of growth and progress in our families. As with all change and transition, it can bring some chaos and anxiety. However, being aware of our own emotional status and keeping it cool, evaluating our values and goals for the upcoming year, then establishing a plan/schedule based on our goals will help create a smooth transition.

I pray that your home will be filled with the joy and refreshment of a new season.

Terri Fedorenko holds a Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy from St. Cloud State University, is LAMFT licensed, and provides individual, couples, and family therapy. She is also a dynamic speaker and life coach. Find out more about Terri at http://hopenowcounseling.webs.com/.

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