Managing the Back-to-School Transition

August 21, 2013

Today we're featuring a guest post by 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. Today she’ll discuss the first strategy; next Wednesday's post will feature the second and third strategies. 

I’ve been asked by many parents on how to make the back-to-school transition run smoothly. As a wife, the mother of five children ranging from 21 to 9, and a marriage and family therapist, my investigations have led me to three strategies to help calm the chaos and alleviate the anxiety of the transition back to school.

First, check your own emotional state. My go-with-the-flow personality lends itself to focusing on the excitement of a brand new year rather than igniting chaos in my home. My laidback attitude in this area is easy and comes naturally to me, but I realize that for a more logical, organized, and structured personality, it may not be so easy. Yet the way we as adults emotionally handle our approach to going back to school may be a key factor in smoothing the transition. You see, our kids’ emotional well-being is significantly linked to our emotional well-being.

This phenomenon is referred to as attachment. From the moment babies are born, they learn emotional regulation from us. Their bodies are attached to our bodies first physically via the umbilical cord and then emotionally through feeding, bathing, and holding via skin to skin contact. The power of this concept can be seen through simple interactions, like when a parent looks into the face of a newborn child with limited expressions. If the parent changes their expression, the baby will imitate the expression. Another example can be seen when a young child falls down: He will look around for his primary caregiver, not because he is actually hurt, but because he is wondering if he will be okay. When the caregiver kneels down, checks out the “owie” and then hugs and kisses the child calmly, they calm down. Similarly, when an infant continues to cry despite a caregiver’s attempts to find the source of their discomfort, simply holding the child securely helps them calm down. In each of the above examples, an anxious response from the parent will produce an anxious response in the child. Knowing that, we as adults and parents should understand how -- especially with younger children -- in most cases it is our view, mood, and emotional status that truly sets the stage for our children’s view, mood, and emotional status.
With that in mind, my first suggestion is to get ourselves in the right mindset. The process of self-evaluation is a unique process for each person and requires us to get a little time alone with God. Isaiah 30:21 (NIV) says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” I love this! It’s a challenge to us to get quiet, listen, then wait for His instruction. We can learn from other parents’ experiences and instructions, but our true revelations are uniquely ours and come from the God who knows us and our families best.
 Many people re-evaluate their lives January 1; I tend to do it at back-to-school time. Every year is a new season in a family’s life. Our home looks a little different than it did last year. My second son has now graduated from high school and moved into his own apartment with our older son, who is already in college. Our oldest daughter is driving and our two younger children will transition to public school. This is a huge change for all of us, resulting in fewer children in the home, changes in transportation, changes in room arrangements, and some clearing in my schedule. But in every home there are changes as we return to school: our children are a year, a grade, and a developmental level older than they were last year, requiring a re-evaluation of our priorities, goals, and schedules. And because all families are intricately connected -- like a finely tuned machine -- this also means that all these changes also impact us as parents. We should ask ourselves: What do the new changes mean for me, my role, my time, and how do I navigate these changes in my own life?
Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me. Psalm 119:133 (NIV)

Next week: Being prepared, designing a plan, then implementing the plan.

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

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