For the last couple of years, my family has spent a lot of time focusing on mental health/mental wellness. As we are getting ready to send our kids back to school from a wonderful summer break, I wanted to share a few things that we will do to support them and set them up for success this school year.
I saw on Facebook a few years ago an idea that we could write down positive words or phrases on our kid’s pencils, so each time they took a pencil out at school, they would see a tiny positive affirmation, and I loved the idea. We have done it a couple of times, and my kids (10, and 11) seem to really like having that with them. Each of my kids needed 32 pencils this year, and I sat down last night and found 32 positive words to use, so they each got the same words. (I wrote on the pencil with an ultra-fine Sharpie so they wouldn’t smear.). My handwriting isn’t perfect by any means, but they know it was meant with love.
We prep for the next day the night before. We set out outfits, water bottles, backpacks, and pack snacks & lunch the night before so that we don’t have a crazy mad rush in the morning with all of the yelling. It’s not perfect, and there are still some raised voices from time to time, but when we set aside 15 minutes the night before, the mornings go so much more smoothly.
We stick to bedtimes. Yes, this does NOT make me a popular parent when our kids’ friends are still up and chatting after our kids have gone to bed, but we know our kids well enough to know that they need their sleep, or they struggle.
#4 Avoid Burnout
We keep them busy but don’t over-schedule them. As adults, none of us do well when we are over-scheduled, and neither do our kids. We are careful not to allow them too many activities so they do not burn themselves out by the end of the week. We also recognize that Thursday is their “burn-out day”, and is the evening our kids are most exhausted from the week, so we try not to schedule much for Thursday nights if we can avoid it.
#5 Decompressing Time
We recognize that kids are young humans, and they will need some time to decompress after school. Sounds simple, right? As adults, we take time after a long day to decompress a little, maybe with a book or hobby or even screens. We allow our kids the same. For about 30 minutes after school, they have free time at home, to just relax and have a snack before they start their school work.
#6 No Devices at Night
We don’t allow screens in their bedrooms after bedtime. It’s so easy to think they can just hop on their device quickly to respond to a text or watch a quick video, but it distracts them and interrupts their sleep (see #3). Again, it doesn’t make us popular, but devices are turned in to be charged at bedtime. This way both the child and phone are fully-charged in the morning.
#7 Unique Rituals
We have a school drop-off ritual since I cannot give a hug and kiss at drop-off. When my older kiddo was in kindergarten, we started the “kiss bump”, where I make a fist bump and kiss it, then she does the same, and we fist bump our kisses. We have done it at every drop-off since that day.
#8 Check In
We check in on their peer relationships. This has gotten tricky as they have gotten older, but we check in once or twice a week to see who they eat with, who they are texting, who they hang with at recess, etc. Becoming familiar with their evolving groups of friends has helped us keep a finger on the pulse of those relationships to see if they may need any guidance on a situation.
#9 Mental Health Days
If something is going on and they need a mental health parent check-in, we don’t treat it like a negative thing. If they need a mental health day, we allow it – we talk through what is going on, and then they have a quiet day with the only real requirements being that they will make up their missed school work the next day and that they read or do non-screen activities for a bit of the day. Again – they are young humans, and we want them to recognize that they need a break. If it becomes an ongoing issue that takes more than a couple of days to fix, we talk about getting them into counseling, either at or outside of school. There is no shame in getting extra support when you need it.
We support them – even when they don’t make great choices. We want them to know that we are their biggest cheerleaders, that we are their safe space, their advocates, and that we love them unconditionally. If they make a choice that doesn’t work out, we talk through it and figure out how it could be improved upon for next time. They aren’t without consequence, but we try to make any consequences fit the circumstances.
My goal for this year (which I know will be easier said than done!) is to let go of the small stuff in the mornings. As long as they get out the door with what they need, I’m realizing that it’s more important for them to get to school in a good mood than having checked every task box at home. There is so much that goes on during their school day that I want them to be mentally ready to learn and have a great day. If we see a habit of something being missed (I’m looking at you, deodorant.) then we talk about it and see how we can make an adjustment so that it doesn’t get missed in the future.
You will see that I said “we” a lot – and I meant it. My husband and I work on these things side-by-side – parenting isn’t just for one of us to handle. There are moments when I lose my patience and have to tag him in on something, and vice versa – we are here to support each other just as much as we support our kids. We are certainly not perfect by any means, but as long as we keep showing up and keep trying our best, that’s what matters the most.