Many families approach back-to-school time with excitement and enthusiasm, as it is an opportunity for a fresh start and a chance to accomplish your goals. Others are filled with anxiety and dread. Either way, children and teens often look to their families for support, direction, and comfort. The end of summer is fast approaching, and many families feel unprepared for what lies ahead, especially if they have experienced a death loss.
What can we do to feel more prepared or at ease?
Whom can we count on to help us or be there for us?
What does our back to school “to-do list” look like?
If you, like so many others don’t know where to begin, consider the following ways to help you PREPARE for the school year ahead:
Plan – Make a plan with your family. Talk as a family about what is most important for this school year. Talk about the challenges they are most afraid of and develop a plan of action to address their fears.
Routine – Develop healthy routines to help with the stress of back-to-school time. Consider consistent bedtimes, help with homework time, scheduling down time as a family, and seeking support for extra-curricular activities.
Expectations – Establish expectations for the school year and build in flexibility. Establishing goals for the year can provide direction, but it is also important to be flexible when things don’t go quite as planned. Acknowledge that it is okay if things fall apart. It is helpful to know that you can pick up the pieces and move forward.
Performance – Be mindful of your child’s school performance and extra-curricular activities. Your child’s grades and activities may or may not appear to be affected by grief. Some children and teens will pour all their efforts into their performance to make their loved ones proud, while others may feel unfocused and don’t see the relevance of doing work when they are grieving. Talk to them about what they are going through and take notice of major changes and shifts in behavior. Adjust expectations if needed and keep the lines of communication open.
Advocate – Talk to your child’s school personnel and let them know what your family is going through. Teachers, counselors, and administrators are available to help and can give your child the added support and comfort they may need throughout the school day. Encourage continued communication throughout the school year and emphasize the importance of your child letting others know what they need to feel supported and successful.
Relationships – Build positive relationships and recognize the relationships that seem to be draining your energy. Reach out to others for help and embrace newfound support that might be unexpected. Recognize changing relationships or shifts in supportive people in your life. Continue to build your relationship with your child and recognize changes in their friendships.
Emotions – Allow yourself and your child the space to feel safe to express difficult emotions. Acknowledge that we all have our ups and downs, and sometimes it can really hit us hard. We often talk about experiencing “grief bursts,” and it is important to know we have a support system in place.
When you ask your child this year, “How was your first day of school” or “How was your day,” know that the answer just might surprise you. With some added support, communication, and preparation, your child’s day might be a little bit different. They may make a new friend, talk openly with a new teacher, share that they have experienced a loss, or they might just manage to make it through their day. Whatever their answer, the important thing to remember is to continue to be engaged, communicate, and stay involved. Many families have received the same answers to the same questions, such as, “it was fine” or “it was okay.”
What if we asked:
Who was supportive of you today?
What happened today that was unexpected?
What surprised you most about today?
What do you wish could have been different about today?
What can I do to better support you?
What was difficult about today?
Did anything make you smile today?
By asking these types of questions you just might receive more insight into what your children are experiencing at school. As the new school year approaches, give yourself some grace and know that the road ahead can be a difficult one, but remember you are not alone.