Our top 5 tips for getting back into the groove after the holiday break…
While most of us look forward to the late December/early January break from school for all of the joy, family time, and excitement it can bring, it is also important to recognize that the changes in routine, location, and general schedule modifications can be difficult for our kids. With long breaks from school, lengthy and often stressful travel, visitors who share or take over rooms, or a combination of all of these events - not to mention excitement around various holiday and family traditions and adventures - life is fun, but very different. You may have noticed your children losing patience with their siblings easier, crying more frequently than usual, or even doing things you have never seen them do over this break. Now that we’re all starting to get back into the groove for 2015, it may be difficult to get back into routines and structure after a bit of a hiatus. We thought these tips might help you ease your family’s transition back to the hustle-and-bustle of school and work.
1. As soon as possible, get back to your routine
Even if school has not started yet for you, when you officially declare that the new year has started, and you are back home with all travel adventures behind you, get started with routine and structure as soon as you can. Even without the school day, you can set up a wake-up time and bedtime that is either the same, or very close to, your child’s school-time schedule. In addition, if meal times have been flexible while traveling, try to have meals and snacks as closely aligned to your child’s school-time schedule as possible. Doing this will help your child get back into the groove quickly, before school and its related time constraints are in the picture again. This will also help you as the adult prepare for getting back into the routine - where did I put my child’s backpack three weeks ago? Find it now and you’ll save yourself some time when school starts!
2. Incorporate Visual Schedules
When I forget my calendar or my phone dies and I can't charge it immediately, I am a bit lost and unsure of what my schedule is without having those visuals accessible. While your kids may have been completely in tune with the school-time schedule before the December break, it has been one long hiatus, and it is important to recognize that, just as it takes us a bit of time to ease back into our routines, our children may also need some extra support to get back on track. In order to help alleviate any anxiety or uncertainty around getting back to the school day routine, try instituting a visual schedule with your kids: one like this one is a great, simple one for starters. This visual support can be as basic or elaborate as you want. Even a schedule that simply outlines the big pieces of the day like sleep and meals, and then has general places for "school" will help to organize our kids' minds and settle any emotions that may arise in getting back to the routine. While you can print these and laminate them for longevity and durability purposes, I have also used simple sheet protectors and slid the schedule inside. I also love using a tactile cue that the event or activity is over by having kids use a dry erase marker (this can be used with laminated paper or on the sheet protector) to check off or draw a line through the schedule item.
3. Reinforcement, not bribery
Remember that shifts in routine (even though our kids are going back to a once-known routine when school starts again) can cause a bit of uneasiness - and many times this can manifest itself in behavior that is less than perfect in our kids. While it is tempting to say to our kids when we see them leaving a bit to be desired in the behavior category 'if you stop screaming at me every time I ask you to do something, I'll give you a cookie" this will likely not be as effective as we might think. Often times people ask me, as a behavior analyst, what the difference is between reinforcement and bribery. While the behavior babe puts it best here, the basic idea for me is that I want to reinforce positive behaviors proactively by setting the tone and expectations for my kids before problem behavior arises, rather than seeing my kids doing something wrong, and reacting by promising them something if they'll just "be good". This idea of being proactive goes with number 4 below, so keep reading...
4. Talk it out
When getting ready to go back to school, talk to your child about what is going to happen, and what might be fun and what might be hard. Try to ask questions that make your child think about the things that might be challenging. Say something like, "you know, it’s been a long time since you’ve been back at school and I bet you’re excited to see your teachers and friends! Can you think of anything that might be hard about today though?" If they can't think of anything, we don't want to focus on the negative and make them scared to even go back to school, but it might be helpful to say something that you might find hard like, "sometimes I get a bit nervous going back to work after taking a break, because I am not sure if I will remember what I have to do since it’s been so long." If your child can make a connection to his own life, you can have a conversation about some proactive things he can do - like asking for help from a friend when needed, taking a deep breath when frustrated, or talking to his teacher. Once you have these conversations, you can then set the tone and tell your child what things you will be looking for in terms of her behavior. You can say, "great, now that we've thought of some things you can do, if your teacher tells me you were able to do those without any reminders, I was thinking maybe we could have a special snack on the way home from school. How does that sound?" This way, you'll be able to calmly and clearly talk to your child on the way home from school what specific behaviors the teacher noticed based on what you had discussed beforehand, and you can either say calmly, "we will work on it for next time" if it was difficult, or celebrate with lots of verbal praise and that delicious snack if the first school day was a success.
5. Make time
The hustle-and-bustle of school, work, after-school events, extracurricular activities and all of the other things loaded on to your family’s plate will rev up again in no time now that the new year has started. Remember that, while your child will settle in sooner or later (depending on the child it could be that she will slide right back into the routine seamlessly, or that it might take a week or so), finding time to check in and listen to her will be the best way to ensure a smooth transition. My husband and I schedule “date nights” with our 2 children - my husband does something special with one of my sons, and I do something else special with my other son - once a month. We usually do this on a Friday or Saturday night, and we decide what to do based on any special events or activities happening locally, or anything that our kids mention could be fun (within reason, of course). We switch off each month so that each kiddo gets to spend quality time with each of us. We make sure we turn off our phones and focus on our kids (something we’re hoping to be better about in general this year) for the entire date, and that we engage in meaningful conversation, or simply listen to our kids. We have decided to have two date-nights this month so that each kiddo gets some time with each of us, especially now that the holiday break is over and the routine is again getting started for us.
Happy 2015 to you - may you have many stress-free days and slumber-filled nights!