By Jodi Baretz
Summer is the time we all look forward to–it’s the weather, of course, but it’s also the relaxed vibe and laziness of it all. As summer begins to wind down and the back-to-school craziness begins, one may well wonder how to hold onto some of that tranquility and calm; how to relish the days and not become frazzled and frantic with lives, schedules and children. The weather will inevitably change, and so too our children’s schedules, but that doesn’t have to mean the end of nirvana.
No matter how old one’s child is, chances are their schedules will be chaotic and hectic. This is the nature of childhood these days, and the culture we live in. We tend to fear that if we don’t put our child in every sport, art class or lesson, they will get left behind. If we don’t give them every possible opportunity to excel, they will be stuck in mediocrity for the rest of their lives.Take a step back and ask yourself if they really need to be in so many structured activities. When we over-schedule our children, we take away that crucial unstructured time where they learn to play. We also worry that unscheduled free time will just lead to more screen time, or, perhaps, that we will have to fill it ourselves. I suggest you do allow some down time; it may just let you be with your children–without screaming to get out the door when they’re exhausted, not to mention save you an extra carpool. It will also take some pressure off your children and send a message that it’s ok to recharge, relax and just be a kid. Maybe if we experiment with this concept, and slow down, we will be calmer and better able to enjoy the fleeting time we do have with our kids. Remembering to love and accept every child for themselves, not what they achieve, is crucial to their state of mind and ours.
Helping your child adjust to the stress of a new school year can feel overwhelming. I can recall the butterflies in my stomach the first day of school every year. Beginnings always produce some sort of anxiety, just like endings can produce sadness. The important thing to remember is that this is normal, and not to trivialize or ignore their feelings, or your own. You might tell them that everyone experiences feelings of nervousness, but the feelings are sure to go away as a routine settles in and that you expect they will soon feel just fine. Telling them that you went through the same thing as a child can also ease their anxiety. We don’t want to push the anxiety away, but shifting it from their head (our minds can make up doomsday scenarios) to feeling it in their body can sometimes diffuse it as well. You do this by asking them what part of their body they feel it in. Can they breathe into it, and simply allow it to be there?
To ease your kids into the back to school structure, you may want to have them start going to bed a little earlier every night, so they are not completely wiped out when the early mornings arrive. Kids may also feel like their screen and play time will be over, so it’s important not to take that away completely in exchange for a rigid schedule. Personally, I am planning to make some screen time rules during homework time. What I’m suggesting is that new rules be implemented, and that they are reasonable, not punitive.
As summer slowly fades away, and a new school year begins, we have a choice. We can approach it with sadness, stress and anxiety, or we can chose to view it as a new beginning, a new challenge with new joys. We cannot change or hold on to the summer months, but we can approach this transition with a sense of wonder, curiosity and gratitude for what it will bring. If things get too stressful and you see the anxiety start to build, remember to STOP–Stop, Take A Breath–open and Observe what you’re feeling, and then Proceed! You might even consider sharing that one with your kids!
Jodi Baretz is a psychotherapist and mindfulness coach, with a private practice at The Center for Health and Healing in Mt. Kisco. In addition to her private clients, she leads a variety of small group mindfulness trainings from busy moms to corporations, teaches mindfulness for Chappaqua Continuing Education, and a “Mindfulness Bootcamp,” four-week program. She lives with her husband and two teenage boys in Millwood. You can reach her at email@example.com or visit jodibaretz.com.