Family routines help pave way to smoother return to school schedules

TROY – As people prepare to say good-bye to the days of summer and embark on a new school year, the adjustment can be smoother by establishing routines for both parents and children, said Stephen Liptak, PsyD, child and adolescent psychologist at Upper Valley Medical Center.

“This is probably the biggest transition time. What makes this particularly stressful is the loss of free time following summer, when people have less routine. Now, people have homework schedules and need to get to bed and get up for school,” he said.

The management of this stress starts with parents, he said. If parents are stressed, they can fall into a trap of yelling at children who are not ready on time, adding more stress.

One approach Liptak suggested was getting into the planned routine about a week before it is required. When school starts, everyone should then be on track for a smooth transition.

“When I work with parents, I stress the importance of parental self-care, realistic expectations, being proactive with planning and time management, and effective command giving. Self-care involves critical areas such as proper sleep, meal planning, and self-discipline,” he said.

Among suggestions for dealing with challenges that may be posed by a child (children):

– If you do not enforce a set homework time, your child is not likely to do this on their own

– Do not allow children to engage in electronic media until their homework is complete

– Avoid keeping laptops and TVs in the bedroom.

Commands should be positive and direct when given by a parent. “Make sure you have your child’s attention … Commands are not questions,” he said. “Try not to give more than one command at once, especially for younger children, and do not give a command unless you are prepared to stay in the room until your child gets started.”

Liptak said he is no longer seeing any COVID effects or disruptions with children with whom he interacts. “COVID is definitely in their ‘rear view mirror,’ especially now that mandatory mask ordinances have been lifted,” he said.

“Also, most families either know someone or have had COVID themselves, are vaccinated, and are much less concerned than they were a year ago at this time.” Liptak encourages families, however, to continue to exercise caution and remain vigilant, saying the pandemic is still a very serious health issue.

He said he has not seen children in his practice who are afraid of going back to school because of school shootings, although he knows there are some children who have those concerns.

“Obviously, such concerns should be taken seriously. I tend to advocate a very open and direct conversation,” Liptak said. “Let them express their concerns and do not invalidate them by overly reassuring them. Try to draw them out, asking open ended questions and letting them know that you understand that they are frightened.” Sometimes, by listening and taking the child seriously, they may start letting go of some anxiety, he said.

Also important are monitoring how much news both parents and children are exposed to, and, with older children, be careful with the extent of social media exposure that can “increase their anxiety and promote an exaggerated sense of danger.”

Liptak said he suggests steering children’s attention toward what they are looking forward to with the return to school. “This is an activity I do with most of my child clients,” he said. “We make lists of what they are looking forward to when they get back to school, what they are not looking forward to, and what their goals are.”