The After-Burn of Starting School
Summer time, and the livin’ is [was] easy, as the song goes.
And there it went! There can be a whole lot more to starting school than starting school. Whether a child is beginning preschool, third grade, middle or high school, after a long summer or just an extended period at home, starting a school or going back to school is a big change and a big deal. It reverberates the most when the child is not actually at school.
After a full day of changing classes, lining up, raising hands, sitting criss-cross-applesauce, not talking, talking in Mandarin, not touching your neighbor, playing by the rules, a child has to let his hair down! Just the psychic energy it takes to get through the first days and back in the student track, renders a child exhausted, too. You know where all the after-burn comes out? Home sweet home. How crazy it is that the people who love him most are the lucky recipients of the most unwelcome behaviors. The start of school often signals a tsunami of those behaviors, so take shelter. They are likely coming your way.
Here are some typical behavioral reactions, the after-burn, that accompany the start of school:
Regressive behaviors. For the child starting or going back to preschool, or even kindergarten, previously mastered behaviors often re-emerge.
- Bed wetting
- Pants wetting
- Urine or bowel withholding
- Baby talk
- School separation trouble
- Separation difficulty at times previously non-problematic (parent going to work; parents going out at night)
- Clinginess in and away from the home
Attitudinal changes. For any age child, holding it together, having a pleasant demeanor, being respectful can expire when the end-of-school bell rings. Like many of his resources, they are all used up. With start of school the child has to recalibrate his attitude all day long, and the icky stuff he has held in has to come out somewhere. You had better duck, as it will come flying your way.
Fighting. Especially in families with more than one child, the changes, pressures, and stresses that come with the start of school are expressed in escalated fights with siblings. Picking fights for no reason is one way to get it all out of his system, otherwise known as “taking it out on someone else.”
For older children, middle schoolers to be sure, the social challenges are powerful. Having to navigate the friendship circles and issues that permeate school, might even be the most difficult part of starting school. It should not be surprising that your teen does not get along with his younger siblings.
Defiance. When you spend all day doing what is asked of you, it can feel so good to be defiant at home. Need any more be said?
How great it would be if there were a magic elixir to recalibrate these start-of-school home behaviors. The good news is that most are just temporary. Here are some tips for tolerating the period of adjustment, after which life at home will return to “normal,” whatever that means for you.
- Acknowledge how hard it is to start school after summer vacation. Be specific when you discuss the things that are (will be) different in school and at and summer life.
- With older children, if you need to address a particular behavior, talk with the child about how hard it can be to start school—pressures and stresses and changes. Suggest that while his undesirable behavior may be a result of the school start, let him know that nothing has changed at home and that you know he can and will get his act together.
- Hopefully, you will have gone back to you regular “school routine” before school begins—early bed time, earlier rising time, no tech during the week, etc… If not, expect a bumpy road and a crabby kid as you try to rein him in and reinstate your family rules.
- Do your best to use a calm tone, taking care not to go from 0 to 60. Remember, it is just the after-burn following the child’s readjustment.
- Use as few words as possible, and do not engage in his arguments. Be clear and direct and without anger calmly state what you want as an expectation. “I expect you to come to dinner now.” Then give him a little more leeway than usual.
- Be prepared to overlook some things on which you would normally not budge. Ask yourself, “Is this a hill I want to die on today?”
Know that soon things will be back to what is normal for your family. And just think, every year until the child is 18 years old you will get to experience a start of school. What a pro you will be by the time high school ends.