Back to school challenges, calmer kids, and more flexibility at work

My daughter and I just spent two weeks at home in quarantine. Here’s what we discovered.

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Why the first day of school is so hard for parents

Two weeks ago, a classmate in my daughter’s summer school tested positive for COVID-19, so Lily and I spent two weeks at home in quarantine. Now, with Labor Day officially over, I thought that I’d be thrilled with her going back to school… but I’ve found it to be a little overwhelming.

It turns out that I’m not alone. Back-to-school anxieties are normal for parents, especially in our current post-pandemic transition. While this time might be exciting for children, who get to see their friends and teachers, for parents, it can be less thrilling. Some parents are experiencing nerves when handing over care responsibilities to teachers after spending so much family time together during the pandemic. On top of those nerves, some parents are returning to work which presents extra stress of family mornings and evenings and the worry of not being there for our children.

It’s OK To Not Be OK. This year back to school is harder for parents, coming out of the pandemic. During the lockdowns, parents spent more time with their children at home. The shift from unprecedented family time to daily separation can feel overwhelming for many reasons as we try to unlearn our pandemic-life habits. It’s natural to worry about how our child will cope without us in a new situation. The first thing parents—and anyone experiencing return-to-normal fears—must do is acknowledge that it’s normal to feel overwhelming anxiety. Then, you can try out some coping strategies.

Acknowledge-Validate-Permit. Acknowledge by noticing a feeling, validate by telling yourself why the feeling makes sense, and then give yourself permission to be having that feeling. Think to yourself: “I’m noticing I’m feeling pretty tense as I take the train into work today. That makes sense, after all, I haven’t done this in a while and the world has changed a ton since March 2020! I’m allowed to feel nervous as I make this transition.”

Establish Separation Routines. You and your children have been faced with uncertainty for months but acknowledging the uncertainty that remains is healthy in the separation routine. You can do this with your child by wondering with them. For example you can say “I wonder what the first day back will be like for your class,” followed by “I am excited to hear what you learn today.” Then the most critical part is to establish that separation routine, to help parents and children feel safer in the transition.

Karsen and I went deeper on this topic in this week’s Quick Tip episode:

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12 strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind

A book that I keep going back to review my notes on is written by neuropsychiatrist Daniel J. Siegel. He teaches at UCLA, where my my wife and I actually met. We’ve found that the path to being a calmer, more relaxed parent is by helping our daughter be a calmer, happier child.

The author explains the science of how a child’s brain is wired and how it matures. I found it fascinating to understand how the brain makes decisions, balances, emotions, and how emotions tend to rule over logic in a child’s brain. No wonder why kids throw tantrums and fight.

However, applying these 12 strategies has helped us turn any outburst, argument, or fear into a chance to foster better brain development.

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