Updated: Sep 3, 2021
The first week of our return to school is nearly done and our students are doing a beautiful job of adjusting to their new routines and schedules. You will likely find that your children may be a little more dysregulated before or after school for the next few weeks. Dysregulation might look like after-school restraint collapse (angry or sad meltdowns), hyperactivity, withdrawing into rooms, reluctance to go to school and generally more tired behaviours and more tears. While some children take longer than others, this should even out and become easier for the majority of students within 3 weeks.
At our school, we work extra hard with our students to ensure we include body breaks, sensory breaks and mindfulness breaks throughout each day and teach them how to advocate for their needs. We also incorporate school-wide quiet and mindful eating times to ensure our learners are focused on nourishing their bodies and minds before they socialize. We believe in adding fun and joy to each class and frequently check-in with your children to see how they are doing (made much easier by a maximum class size of 12). We do all we can to help make our active school days less draining... but it still takes time to adjust.
It’s important to note that many children will need to ‘unpack their emotional bags’ after school with the person they feel the most safe with. This is typically the parent who is at home with them the most or the family member they spend time with immediately after school. ‘Unpacking the emotional baggage’ often means that children only share the most challenging 5-10 minutes of their day such as a brief challenge with a friend at recess or an upsetting moment (even if 95% of their day was great). We recommend quietly listening and responding with empathy without rushing to solve their problem. This might look like: “Wow, that sounds tough (or sad or frustrating). Do you want me to just listen or would you like to work together to come up with a plan and problem solve?" You might be surprised at how often they ask you to simply listen without offering advice! When they do ask for help with their problem-solving, try to prompt your child to see if they can think of another side to the story with your intention to build the essential Changemaker skills of perspective-taking and empathy first. These are skills that can take a lifetime to develop for some, so it's ok if they are unable to comprehend another side of the story in their early school years!
An example to share: On Monday we had a younger student ask a group of older students if he could play basketball with them. I was personally supervising that area and saw that the older students welcomed this younger one to play. I loved how kind and inclusive they were (our Assembly topic of the week is Inclusion). Once the young student started playing basketball, he quickly realized his skills weren’t quite at the level that the older boys were at. He decided that the best plan was to announce that he would be the coach instead! A brilliant plan! However, the older boys said they didn’t really need or want a coach. Darn! But they were happy to take turns waiting and letting him try to get the basketball in the hoop. The young student immediately came to me upset. He told me that the older boys “wouldn’t let him play”. As I had watched the entire situation unfold, I nodded with empathy and prompted the student to see if he could interpret the situation in any other way. Without telling him or the older students what to do, I guided the young student through the problem-solving process so he could make a new plan. The older boys waved him over to play again but ultimately, he decided that joining the students who were examining a spider’s web was more aligned with how he was feeling that day.
This was an important social learning experience for that child but there is no doubt that it was accompanied by uncomfortable feelings for him to process. As a new student to our school, he wasn’t ready to unpack those feelings with the staff but he likely shared those feelings with his safe person, his parent, after school. As you can imagine, it’s quite possible that when the story was shared at home some hours later, some meaningful details were missing. Children share their experiences from their perspective. This is normal!
As a staff, we do all we can to support your children through those experiences at school but we also know that a parent will most often be the first choice for their safe space. Feel free to reach out if you are ever concerned, we are happy to fill in the situational blanks and support when we can! We truly want to be a team at our school and that means collaborating in such situations with our community of parents to deepen everyone’s understanding.
Aside from navigating new relationships and working on social skills, our students tend to be more active both in their classroom and outside in the elements than the average elementary student. Also, in comparison to the summer months and/or their previous experiences in preschool or kindergarten, children will also be adjusting to using their brains in new and challenging ways. I'd be worried if they weren't extra exhausted in the first few weeks!
Things you can do to support your child:
Have a snack ready the minute they jump in the vehicle! Even with mindful lunch, two designated snack breaks and, in some cases, the opportunity to eat between blocks, many of our students tend to always be hungry due to growing bodies, higher levels of activity and more time spent outdoors!
Try to get to bed a little earlier! We know this isn’t always easy, but until their bodies adjust to the extra energy output, an earlier bedtime routine with a bath or extra quiet reading time at night can really help.
Practicing positivity. READ THIS ARTICLE Studies show older children when trained to think optimistically are less likely to develop depression later in life. Consequently, a positive-thinking child becomes a more resilient one. While positivity can be problematic (or even toxic) if you don't first acknowledge and empathize with that frustration, sadness and anger indicating that they are valid and real feelings, do try to work through the problem and help your child to reframe the situation into something positive. You can also make a habit of asking for at least one positive experience after they have ‘unpacked’ any challenges.
Give Space. Many children need quiet time after a busy day at school especially if they are more introverted (or an extroverted-introvert) and need to recharge from all the social energy they put out. Asking too many questions or prompting them to share 'what is wrong' when they are quiet can pressure your child to feel that they need to come up with something just to explain why they are feeling so low-energy. Consider waiting until a little later in the evening over a cup of calming tea or evening bath instead and ask about something specific in their agenda to prompt discussion. It's also wise to always re-evaluate the number of after-school activities your child is enrolled in and ensure that the activity and number of nights out aligns with their disposition and needs for quiet time.
If you find that your child has still not adjusted well after a few weeks, don’t hesitate to reach out to your child’s teacher. Our team always has a list of strategies to bridge the gap between energy levels at school and at home. We will often try to offer more quiet times, add more check-ins or include extra snack breaks. If those strategies are unhelpful we will arrange a meeting with you and your student to get to the root of the problem.
Ultimately, it's important to remember that you are not alone! Just as adults have ups and downs at work or even on holidays with friends and family, all children will have good days and bad days with emotional outbursts and big feelings that can be hard for us as parents to handle. If you know your child is having an especially hard time for any reason, we always want to hear from you so that we can adjust our own expectations at school and offer you and your child a little extra love!