October is upon us and the “honeymoon period” of a new classroom, a new teacher, and novel activities is over. As many students settle into their fall routines, they also may settle back into old habits and behaviors you’ve worked so hard to improve. Homework battles are back, sleep cycles are off once again, and sticky transitions between swim practice and violin lessons may have you at your wit’s end. While predictable routines keep children feeling safe and supported, the return to the familiar can also mean the return of emotional impatience and dysregulation. Here are some recommendations for supporting your child during this “resettling” phase:
1. Daily Primer
We often assume that simply because routines are internalized and familiar to us, they are also familiar to our children. Children who have difficulties with situational awareness, sequencing of activities, and managing time and materials may still be experiencing their days as unpredictable chains of events. Take time each morning to review your child’s daily agenda and prime him or her for ways (s)he can be successful. You can do this by looking over a written calendar, talking through daily expectations, or role-playing what daily activities might look like.
2. Nightly Debrief
Just as priming helps children’s brains to be ready for and responsive to the activities of their day, debriefing the day’s events supports emotional regulation, self-evaluation, and development of hindsight (i.e., the ability to use past events to impact a current or future event). You can ask your child to share the lows and highs of his or her day (i.e., hardest parts and best parts) and discuss how the low points might be made better in the future.
3. Body Basics
Plenty of sleep and water, healthy meals, and physical exercise are essential in keeping your child calm and well regulated. Stick to a regular bedtime that allows time for debriefing, reading and/or deep breathing. Keep the morning routine as easy as possible by preparing lunch and backpacks the night before. Serve up a healthy breakfast, and send your child to school with a reusable water bottle rather than a sugary juice drink. If your child is high energy, encourage jumping jacks, jogging, or a walk before school. For kids who aren’t energetic in the morning, schedule some type of exercise later in the day.
4. Insert More Pause
If your child is becoming impatient and irritable with homework, chores, or transitions, encourage the whole family to add mindful moments of pause into the day. Since mindfulness practice builds our brain’s ability to pause before reacting, these short moments can support self-regulation for almost any activity. Mindful moments can include focused breathing, yoga, stretching, mindful eating, progressive muscle relaxation, etc.
5. Wait on the “Daily Report”
Many children are running on “cognitive fumes” by the time they get picked up from school. Although it may seem like a small request, the act of reporting the activities of their day may feel overwhelming to some children and lead to emotional dysregulation. Give your child’s brain a chance to build up more “cognitive fuel” with a snack, movement break, and/or low-effort activity (e.g., drawing, cooking, playing, etc.) before asking them to provide a “daily report.”
6. Stick to the Plan
Now that you’ve figured out your daily and weekly routines, stick to them as consistently as possible. Just a couple nights of extra homework, long basketball practices, and “just one more TV show” can allow the routine that seems so cemented fall back into a sense of unpredictable confusion for children. Despite how it may feel in the midst of homework turmoil, those last few math problems aren’t actually more important than a healthy meal, relaxation, and a good night’s sleep, especially when it comes to brain health. Try not to let the occasional meltdown corner you into scrapping your whole routine for what seems convenient in the moment. The more we stick to the plan, the more efficiently and effectively our brains can perform.
Helping your child stay well regulated is an ongoing project and one that will require adjustment based on the child’s needs and external factors. By staying attentive to your child’s emotional state and using strategies that support regulation, you can help your child feel calm and balanced. For more suggestions about how to support your child’s emotional regulation throughout the daily routines and school year, explore the book Make Social Learning Stick! (aapcpublishing.net).