Managing the transition from summer holidays to back to school – for parents!

The youngest four kids head back to school this week and over the last weeks or so we have been doing small things to get them ready for heading back to school. While the main focus tends to be on the kids at this time of year, it is important that we think about how we (the parents) are going to manage the transition from summer holidays to back to school.

On the two ends of the spectrum of how parents feel about heading back to school, there are:

  1. the parents who cannot wait for school to start back and are looking forward to life being easier with the kids back at school
  2. the parents who would love another week or two of school holidays to keep things on summer holiday pace and delay getting back into the hustle and bustle of school life as much as possible

I lean towards the second of these two scenarios. Regardless of which end of the spectrum you are on, managing the transition back to school for you can really have a significant impact on how the back to school process goes for the whole family. These are some areas I take into consideration at the start of the new school year.

Managing my own expectations

Our expectations of what life is going to be like once the kids are back at school will have a big impact on our happiness and contentment levels. Quite often we can put too much emphasis on the impact the kids heading back to school will have. We can slip into the “once the” mindset. For those parents looking forward to the school holidays to be over it might be along these lines:

  • Once the kids are back at school they will get along better and the fighting will end.
  • Once the kids are back at school, I will start  ____________ (fill in the blank, it could be a new exercise routine, a hobby, decluttering).
  • Once the kids are back at school I will be more patient.
  • Once the kids are back at school, life will be more routined and less stressful.
  • Once the kids are back at school I will have more time to myself.

While some of these things might be true, it is rare that the “once the” scenario is as wonderful as we expected. What happens then is we end up feeling strong emotions because the reality of back to school has not lived up to our expectations. We get annoyed because there are more back to school meetings in the evening taking time away from us. The kids are tired from adjusting to back to school in the summer heat and bicker in the evenings, we lose our patience with them and are angry that they are behaving this way.

The best way to deal with this is to be realistic about our expectations about what back to school really looks like. Back to school requires:

  • adjustment from the kids – for some kids at particular year levels the adjustment can be significant and they can need our support even more than usual
  • more paperwork – there are numerous forms to fill out at the start of each year which take time and concentration
  • more evening commitments – the start of the school year has a set of school meetings and social functions to attend
  • finding new routines that work – kids change year levels, schools, after school activities etc, so we need to find out the best way to fit them into our weekly rhythm

If we head into the back to school period with a realistic picture about what it looks like, we are much less likely to be disappointed. It is when there is a substantial difference between expectations and reality that issues arise.

Transition times

I wrote about transition times in a post late last year, titled very creatively Managing transition times! The tips in this post were aimed for managing transition times for kids, but as adults we can struggle with transition times as well. To explain what I mean by transition times, I will share what I wrote in my earlier post.

If you look at most families and look at when is the peak for family disharmony, it is almost always at transition times across the day.

What are transition times? Transition times are when kids and adults need to move from one activity or area of focus to the next. It is when we need to get the toddlers to stop playing and have a bath. It is when parents come in from work and need to switch into home mode, it is when teenagers need to get off their devices and come to dinner etc.

Transition times are challenging because very often the child or adult may not want to move from one activity to the next one they are being asked to do. For me when I have taken a break to have a cup of tea and read a book in the sunshine, there is definitely a level of resistance to go back inside the house and start cleaning for example.

In the spectrum I noted above, I noted I fell into the second scenario, which is wanting another week or two of school holidays. This has the potential to cause me issues as I struggle to leave school holiday mode and transition into school routine mode. We have to make the change to school routines, so being aware that both the kids and I may struggle with this makes a huge difference to how I approach this time.

Just like everyone wants to catch up before Christmas, there is again another surge of “let’s catch up” activity “once the” kids are back at school. As noted above the back to school period already comes with extra meetings and social activity, so to add a bunch of additional catch ups to the calendar can fill up the the schedule and see us chasing our tails to fit everything in only a week or two into the school term. To avoid this, I block out my calendar with notes saying not to book anything in. It doesn’t mean I can’t do a catch up if I really want to, but when I look at my calendar, it reminds me that this a transition time and I do not want to overload myself or the kids.

During this time of transition I also aim to keep things as simple as possible to reduce the work load and keep more time freely available. This means things like:

  • using popular old menu plans – these will have the kids favourites repeated a couple of times across the month and plenty of recipes that are easy for me to cook
  • keep the number of after school activities to a minimum in term one – as parents we can feel like we should be giving kids opportunities to be doing things all the time and might find it hard to say no to after school activities. There is however much to be said for keeping activities to a minimum as we all adjust to going back to school after the big summer break.

I also try and keep at least one of the holiday family habits we have developed over the summer. This year we have been playing card games as a family. We have been playing most days and when school goes back, while I might not find the time to play every day, I will make sure when we have most of the family at home after dinner, we will play when we can. Similarly, over the summer holidays I read a lot, so I will make sure I allocate a small amount of time each day, even if it is only 10 minutes to read, so I don’t feel like I am losing some of the things I enjoyed most about the school holidays.

How do you feel about back to school time?

Photo by Ethan Robertson on Unsplash