As the summer starts to wind down, it’s time to think about the return to school.
If your children are having their first experiences with spending time in two households, you may be facing some new transitions this year. There are several things you can do now to make your children’s return to school easier.
Start a few weeks before school resumes to ease back into a school year sleep schedule. If your children have more difficulty with transitions, the last week of summer vacation should be low-key and relaxing, more of a staycation than a vacation away from home.
If you’re in a new school, a new home, or both, practice the commute or confirm the bus schedule and bus stop information ahead of time.
Many families have found that the best way to get out of the house on time in the morning is to start and pack up the night before!
Figure out a way to ease the morning routine- have a designated place for backpacks, lunch boxes, school papers and correspondence, and school supplies. Children can benefit from having a list of what’s needed that day, and for some children, a visual picture chart of what to pack for the day will be helpful.
If you are just getting used to two households, or your family’s situation demands it, you may consider having two sets of textbooks, gym clothes, or sports equipment to lessen the likelihood of being unprepared. There will be plenty of time for your children to “learn responsibility” later. Adding the need to remember “what’s at whose house” may be more than some children can handle when they’re first transitioning to a new school year in two households. (This is something that you can work on together over time). If there are items that can’t be duplicated (such as a musical instrument), have a “DO NOT FORGET” checklist that you (and your children) check before your children leave for their other home.
Always Check the Calendar
While a digital calendar is great for convenience and ease of reference and access, many children and families need a physical calendar displayed prominently, showing “who is where when”, what equipment needs to go to school that day, what appointments, lessons, sports practices, or other responsibilities are scheduled, and who will be doing school drop-offs and pick-ups. As soon as you become aware of an event, add it to the calendar and pass on the information to anyone who needs to know. Using different colors for each child and/or different colors for each home, lets you easily know where your children will be on which day.
Use Clear and Effective Communication
Don’t assume that anyone knows anything unless it has been discussed and confirmed! Clear communication with co-parents and children regarding pick-ups, drop-offs, after school appointments, and responsibilities will lessen the likelihood of mix-ups. Having a “co-parent meeting” or phone call before school begins is a great way to set the stage for a smoother transition for your children. Be clear in your communication with your co-parent and avoid putting your child in the middle.
Spread the Word and Stay Connected
Inform teachers, guidance counselors, coaches, and other important adults about your new family situation. If the divorce or separation is recent, you may want to help your children prepare what to say to their friends and their teachers if your new family situation is mentioned. Some children can get overwhelmed thinking about how they’re going to handle a question or comment that may stir up emotions. Someone may ask how they’re doing or tell them they’re “sorry to hear about the divorce”. Taking a few minutes to explore their feelings with them and help them to craft a short response can help them feel more comfortable.
Be Present and Involved
If possible, both parents should attend conferences, back to school night, and school events. Sometimes, especially early in the divorce process or if things get particularly “stressful”, being together in the same room with your co-parent can be a challenge. If you feel that way, accept that right now, you may need some distance. Explore what’s going on with you and your feelings. There may be a way to get past this over time and with help—especially if this is something that is important to your child—but giving yourself grace and compassion during your own period of transition is appropriate.
Address Your Child’s Concerns
Your children may be worried about the change in routine—wondering if someone will forget to pick them up; will they get in trouble if they forget something at the other parent’s house; how will they function without “all their stuff”; and how hard will it be to be missing their pet, their old neighborhood, and their friends, (not to mention one parent when they are with the other one). Keep the lines of communication open. Let your children voice their concerns and share their feelings with you. Validate their experiences and brainstorm together to think of ways to make the transition and the experience easier for them.
With preparation and patience, you can help your children have a successful start to the school year!