With the hallmarks of the school year upon us, pediatrician visits, school supplies trips, and bleary eyes re-adapting to a 7AM wake up call, it’s a great opportunity to goal set for the coming school year. What’s going to be the same? What’s going to be different? How can we glean the most educational (for parents) and social (for kids) benefits from the coming school year?

Back to school for most families and clinical providers means back to boundaries. Boundaries, in this usage, means the firm but flexible rules and expectations that define a large part of our lives and routines. One of the wonderful parts of summer is that we can loosen up those boundaries because the stakes aren’t very high. Late bedtime? Sleep in! Junk food? Yeah, me too! It’s a great chance to enjoy our kids with loose expectations and maximum fun. When the school year starts, though, we often must revisit those boundaries and expectations because suddenly those new norms don’t translate well into academic success. That first D on a math test hits hard!

SO, how do we make the school year a success? (Hint, it was mentioned earlier.) Firm, but flexible boundaries. Kids don’t feel victimized by a new world order, but they know the expectations and they are reasonable and meetable (meetable being key; don’t ask a C- student to become an A student overnight).

Establishing clear boundaries at the beginning of the school year is key because it’s difficult to tighten boundaries, not as challenging to loosen up. A great forum for this is a family meeting or pizza dinner night so that it’s not a surprise.

In soliciting buy-in, it’s great to ask your kids for suggestions on what those boundaries might look like. Open the conversation up with, “We all want this school year to be a success. We’d like to brainstorm as a family some ways that we might be able to do that.” Let some silly stuff creep in there to make it fun. Fruit Loop Fridays, anyone?

An important topic to cover is a routine bedtime, and although unpopular, bedtime should involve a “bedtime” for electronics. To mitigate the emotional (and hopefully not physical) tug of war, electronics should be stored in the same place overnight, every night. It might be difficult to start this, but great for kids to get in this habit as a young person to set the stage for a healthy relationship with electronics in adulthood. (Ahem, late night scrollers).

What should study time look like? Ask your child! There should be predetermined time devoted nightly to academics. This might be after a play break, before a play break, or sandwiching a play break. All kids are different, but the expectations must be consistent for this to work.

Finally, establishing healthy, open communication at the beginning of the school year sets the tone for success. Each new school year presents the opportunity for new pressures and new developmental phases. Your child can navigate these ups and downs in collaboration with you, or in collaboration with their frequently less knowledgeable friends.

Establishing that communication is easy. More difficult is listening. Kids need to feel heard and part of that means talking less and listening more. Put YOUR device down, make eye contact, and listen to hear – not to respond. This listening and support provides a platform for discussion of the little stuff, like the failed math test, or the big stuff, like sexual orientation, identity confusion, peer pressures, and substance use. These conversations are difficult, but important. Take a deep breath. Don’t make judgments. Listen. Thank them for telling you, and call for help if you need us.

When you call, know that CHNK Behavioral Health is accustomed to helping families navigate these conversations. With our specialized focus on “What happened to you?” vs. “What’s wrong with you?” through our Sanctuary Model certification, and our LGBTQ competency certification through All Children – All Families, we have a strong framework with which to navigate these topics with you and your family. We can provide parent coaching, as well as individual, family, and group therapy. We will establish a treatment plan targeted for your family’s needs. So keep our number – 1.844.YES.CHNK – in mind and reach out any time.

Hope you and your family have a wonderful 2019-2020 school year!

Crystal Leugers
Written by: CHNK Behavioral Health Chief Programming Officer Crystal Leugers, LCSW, LCADC, MSW