As children return to school and extracurricular activities begin, families may find that they have less time together at home than they did during the summer months. Parents may feel stressed about having to pick up their child from soccer practice, get dinner on the table, help with homework, and put their child to bed after they have already had a long day at work. Children often feel that they don't have as much time to relax at home once the school year starts and may respond to this change by wanting more screen time, expressing anxious feelings, or having trouble getting their homework done. Recognizing the loss of free time and acknowledging how children and parents are feeling is an important first step in coping with these emotions.
In order to help chlidren with their feelings, parents first need to think about and addrress how they are feeling. After a long day at work, parents may be tired or feel less patient than they normally would. Taking some time to focus on yourself and how you are feeling is one way to help prepare you for helping your child with their feelings. You can try to relax or decompress by listening to your favorite music or podcast on the way home, calling a friend to talk about your day, or reading a book on the train. By caring for yourself and your needs, you are setting a good example for your children about how they can take care of themselves as well as setting yourself up for greater success when adressing how children are feeling.
Children may communicate that they are tired, stressed, or upset through their behaviors. For example, younger children may be more easily frustrated or have trouble transitioning whereas older children may be more argumentative or may want to be on screens more than usual. Recognize that these behaviors are your child's way of telling you that they are tired and overwhelmed.Offer your empathy and relationship in response to these behaviors to help children process how they are feeling. With young children, you may say something like, "I see you are having a hard time getting off your iPad and starting your homework. I know you are tired after a long day and it can feel good to sit on the couch and relax, but it's also important that your homework gets done before it gets too late. How about I sit with you at the table while you get started?" For older children, you may say something like, "I know you're tired and need time to relax, but it's also important that you get enough sleep to feel good tomorrow. Is there anything I can do to help you get started on your work?" Offering to clear off a space for the child to work, make a snack, or reduce distractions in the environment can show older children that you want to help them succeed while avoiding a power struggle. This strategy also gives your child an opportunity to make decisions about how to best get everything done.
Maintaining realistic expectations of what will get done after a long day is another way parents can take care of themselves and their children. When parents have unreasonably high expectations for themselves and their children, both parents and children can feel anxious or stressed about making sure everything gets done. Instead, prioritize feeling good and taking care of the family over completing tasks. For example, children may only be able to complete one homework assignment before bed or parents may need to leave some of the dishes in the sink. By maintaining realistic expectations, parents and children can prioritize their feelings and relationship which will help them be more resilient and cope better in the future.
If you find that you are coming home late consistently and there is rarely enough time to get everything done, consider what activities can be put on hold until you establish a more comfortable routine. When children and parents have time to relax together and connect in the evenings, their relationship is strengthened and children feel less anxious and more ready for the next day.