As we find ourselves in the middle of summer, it might feel early to start thinking about school. However, taking the time to bridge the gap between summer and the upcoming academic year can set your child and your family up for the most successful and stress-free year possible. This is especially crucial for children who struggle with their mental health. Let's explore the importance of this transition and gather insights from Parent Alliance staff members who have, and are all raising children who struggle with their mental health.
1. Fighting the mid-summer slump
As Christina, Director of the Parent Alliance, shared, the midpoint of summer can often bring a sense of frustration and exhaustion. "This is where all of my carefully laid out plans started to fall apart - every single summer. My kiddos had already completed their vacation weeks at grandma and grandpa's houses, the excitement of the 4th of July was over, their friends were away on vacation and they were sick of the pool or whatever activities that were a fun summer novelty 6 weeks ago." said Christina.
Christina is not the only parent who has felt this. It is very common for the initial excitement of the summer break to fade away. When this happens children may start to feel bored, disconnected, or anxious - all of which could cause behavioral challenges, or meltdowns. If you are starting to notice this mid summer energy shift in your own house you are not alone. "During this time of the summer it was helpful to revisit that summer blueprint to see what plans we had back when the idea of summer was exciting and get working on checking off what was left undone on the list. There were often lots of things."
If you are like Christina and created a summer plan this could be a great point to check in and get back on track if you have strayed. Don't stress if you didn't create some big elaborate plan (by elaborate we mean sticky notes Christina kept on her desk). Her advice still rings true that right now you can get a list of all of the summer activities available to your children and try out some of the ones you haven't already done.
2. Planning Ahead for Success
Not only did Christina try to circle back to fun things to do but she started to shift her mindset to look past "surviving" the summer and move towards getting ready for school and beyond.
"This was also a good time to sit each kiddo down and start talking about a plan for back to school. Consider keeping them busy by making up a back to school list of what they want vs need and see if you can get them involved in 'earning money' for those wants by doing things like reading a book (maybe one on their required reading list) or window washing. Speaking of required summer homework, maybe you can make a trip to the local library and see if you can get an audio version of any required reading and 'listen to X # of minutes each day and then talk about it." said Christina.
Parent Alliance staff member Tara agreed with Christina that right now it is helpful to start looking past the summer, especially if this is one of those big years where your child will be going to a new school building next year. "If my child is going to a new school this is the time when I'll reach out and set up some days we can go in and get them acquainted with everything. We attend back to school orientation nights but they are more of a social outing and my child isn't actually able to build that confidence that they need before school starts. By calling and asking the school for my child to go in one day allows them to go at their own pace, and ask questions they might not have felt comfortable asking in front of their classmates."
Christina agreed that the older your child is, the more planning you need to do and discussions you may need to have. "If your child is anywhere in high school it's a good time to start thinking about after high school and what they may want to do, be it additional schooling or not so you can look for opportunities to expose them to what they may like to do. Like if they want to be a CNA/nurse/doctor who can they talk to and learn what the day in day out is actually like? Look for college scholarships that may be offered specifically for kiddos with ADHD or other disorders." said Christina.
3. Engaging Your Child in the Transition
Cheryl, a Parent Alliance FSP who homeschools her children, believes in involving children in the planning process, and making it fun when you can. "This time around I decided to include my child more in the planning to see what reaction I would get. They were actually amped about it and immediately went on the tablet to send me science learning ideas. Sometimes something as simple as letting my child pick out their own writing utensils goes a LONG way in keeping them engaged."
When children have a say in their academic planning, they feel more invested and excited about the upcoming school year. Ask your child for input, whether it's picking out school supplies, choosing what they write with, or brainstorming subjects they are interested in learning more about this year. This inclusion fosters a sense of ownership and can alleviate anxiety, particularly for children who struggle with focus or dislike school-related activities.
4. Setting Milestones and Building Anticipation
Melissa, another Parent Alliance FSP, suggests creating specific milestones to mark the transition from summer to school. Whether it's attending a yearly event, such as a fair, parade, or setting a date to purchase school clothes and supplies, these milestones help your child understand that summer is coming to an end and that preparations for school are underway.
"When my kids were younger I took one of the things that we would do every year and made that our cut off to make sure they understood that summer was close to being over and we were going back on track to being on a school schedule. For us it was the parade for the local fair. It was always the same time every year and we could go to this for FREE. So I knew it was something that we could do. My adult daughter shared that she still feels like when the parade is close summer is almost over. We took that time to start buying school clothes and supplies."
Children who struggle with anxiety often want to know exactly what is coming next. A lot of their anxiety may stem from the fear of the unknown so filling them in on what's going on can really help. By giving them this idea that summer is wrapping up when a specific thing happens you may help to alleviate some of their back to school related anxiety. As a kid the summer can feel open ended so creating a clear transition point gives their brains a better idea of when they need to think about the upcoming year.
5. Self-Care and Grace:
Amidst the busyness of summer and the upcoming school year, it's crucial to prioritize self-care and extend grace to yourself and your child. As Cheryl reminds us; "not every moment will be perfect, and that's okay." Give yourself permission to let go of grand expectations and focus on the small joys. Take breaks when needed, trade childcare with other parents, and remember that feeling overwhelmed is a shared experience among many families.
This transition is hard on everyone and as the leader of the house you can begin to establish a household tone of "we're tackling this school year together" by showing your child that you are being proactive, and you are on the same team as them.