Managing the Back-to-School Blues

14 Sep
Are you ready to tackle the back-to-school blues in your house? Our guest, Dr. Keith Kanner, will give you some tips on how to manage the blues.
     Background:  By the end of this week, most children and adolescents will be back to school.  Although most parents took the appropriate measures to prepare them by talking about it and getting the needed “back to school supplies”, nevertheless, going back to school after summertime represents a significant transition for most kids. Typically, the first month back after summer is when parents experience the most significant battles over homework, getting up in the morning, turning off those cell phones, and being generally cooperative.  Such manifestations are due to the natural feelings that all children and adolescents experience when going back to school – a combination of frustration and perhaps some excitement about seeing their friends.  The adult comparison would be going back to work after a vacation where there was an absence of business problems, meetings, and deadlines.
     Adults seem to have an easier time understanding the concept of “Monday Morning Blues”, then being able to put themselves in the shoes of their children and responding as though they know how they feel.  However, children truly appreciate when their parent can associate with their inner experiences without them having to express themselves in words.  Remember the days when your child was an infant and as a caring and invested parent, you could determine what type of cry determined what particular feeling in them?  This was all done without words.  Just because a child develops the capacity to speak does not erase how important it is for parents to be able to “read” their child’s non-verbal cues to determine their mental state.  In fact, as children develop and strive towards independence from their parents, they naturally speak less until they get through the adolescent years, but still rely on that caring parent to “know them”.  Here, is where the continual investment of parenting comes into action – being able to let your child know that you know them and how they must feel.  Even making the attempt to convey your perception is worth the chance that they may tell you are wrong, but at least you tried and there is a chance they might actually share what it is they are feeling.
     Putting this concept into place comes in handy over this next month.  Most children and teenagers will have some “normal” adjustment issues to going back to school which could manifest in a number of typical ways:  a refusal to do homework; trouble getting up in the morning; irritability; acting out; and even some infrequent bed wetting, just to name a few.  Each of these “symptoms” are just that – indicators that your child is experiencing some very strong feelings about going back to school.  How a parent responds to this “regression” is very important however.  Perhaps the most common parental mistake is to just punish the behavior.  Punishment by itself does not work, but communicate to the child that their feelings and behavior are both bad.  There is a big difference between a feeling and a behavior.  It is a matter of how feelings are handled and the role of any parent is to help their child learn how to better manage feelings, not feel bad about them.  When parents merely punish a behavior, most children then generalize that the feeling was “bad” too and then a development of guilt over feelings becomes a pathological pattern rather than the emphasis be placed on appropriate behaviors.
     So, if your child is having such a “regression” due to school resuming, talk to them about how they are feeling and work together with them to get through the initial “shock period” of getting back into school.  Empathize, share how it was for you when you were a kid, and help them get their “job” accomplished by encouragement and some limits if necessary to “help” them manage, not punish them for feeling frustrated and perhaps saddened that vacation is over for a while.
Key Points:
1. Most kids will have some normal adjustment issues about going back to school
2. Help them by talking to them about how you think they must feel
3. Both emphasize and help them stay on track with rewards and limits
4. Punishing behavior by itself is limited in effectiveness
5.  Regression typically weans over the first month back to school
Dr. Keith Kanner
Anchor/Host Your Family Matters –
Host:  Ask The Doctors:  Relationship Edition
Fox 5 News – San Diego

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