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  • Gonzalo Laje

Back to School | August


From the Director's Desk

As we head back to school and in some cases work in a hybrid model, we are faced with uncertainty and stress. These times of transition can be difficult for families. We are here to help and support you. Please read our Back to School Blog to learn more. Thank you to Janelle McCarthy, LGPC, for sharing your insight.

The Dog Days of Summer

The so-called “dog days of summer” occur in the period when Sirius (the dog star, not the animagus) aligns with the sun and is visible all around the world–roughly from July to the beginning of August. The dog days mark some of the hottest and brightest days of the year. They’re also a harbinger of the upcoming school year. Just as we stock up on sunscreen and cool treats to navigate the dog days, it’s also important to prepare for the next season: back to school. The dog days are a time of transition and, as we often discuss in parent coaching sessions, where there are transitions, there are often needs for increased support.

Below are several tips to make your family’s transition as smooth as possible:

Hold space for all the feelings

Some kids love school and are excited to return to the structure, the challenges, and the social opportunities. Some kids struggle with school and have anxiety (in the form of clinginess and/or seemingly mountain sized reactions to molehills) about going back. Some have mixed feelings–they love the freedom summer brought, they’re eager for the parts of school they like, and they’re dreading the parts they dislike. Validate and normalize this medley of feelings as they come up and be sure to model your own range of emotions so that kids learn it’s okay to experience any feeling–anger and sadness included.

Activity: Use the language of “ice cream cone feelings” with your family. Scoops of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream on a cone are distinct, they also melt together at the borders. Similarly, feelings can be different or mixed together all at the same time. Each and every feeling, or group of feelings is real and valid. You can model naming your emotion scoops, and make it a game by asking what scoops the kids think are on a favorite movie or book character’s ice cream cone at any given moment.

Maintain a soothing bedtime routine

A good night’s sleep goes a long way–it promotes learning and supports emotional regulation. While we can’t make ourselves fall asleep, we can increase the likelihood by engaging in soothing activities before bed (e.g. a mug of tea, a warm shower, puzzling, etc.), staying away from screens an hour before we plan to turn out the lights, and maintaining a consistent bedtime each night.

Do future you a solid and set your morning up for success

Avoid unnecessarily stressful mornings by prepping the night before. Lay out your clothes. Pack your lunch. Set your alarm(s). Make sure folders are in backpacks. If it’s a good fit for your family, everyone can join in on (some or all of) these tasks. Body doubling (being in the same room as someone else to increase motivation and task initiation) can be a useful way to establish these habits.

Make the unknown known

When I was in 2nd grade, my class was studying French. To reinforce our learning, my teacher made the rule that when we had to use the bathroom, we’d make our request in French. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember the phrase, and, in my binary thinking, I assumed that I, therefore, couldn’t use the bathroom. Silly as it sounds now, it did not occur to me to ask in English (I thought it wasn’t allowed and I didn’t want to break a rule) or let my teacher know that I needed some help learning the phrase. Instead I just waited to use the bathroom.

This example illustrates that some of the “school time scaries” originate from misinformation and catastrophizing. Ask your kids what they know about the upcoming year, keeping an ear out for any cognitive leaps (e.g. “You have to ask in French to use the bathroom”). Ask your children what questions they have, and collaboratively come up with a plan to learn the missing information. A few ideas to get you started include:

  • Attending open houses

  • Touring the school

  • Talking with someone (a family friend, someone the guidance counselor recommends, someone from your child’s extracurriculars, someone from your religious community, someone from your neighborhood) who just completed that grade

Build in an element of choice

Like all things, school has many parts–some fun, some boring, some in-between. If your child is having a hard time (whether they’re articulating it with their words or their behaviors) with a particular part, see where you can create a foothold of choice within it. Choice creates a sense of agency, power, and buy-in, which can make engaging with a non-preferred task a bit more manageable. Here are some examples:

  • You have to go to PE - you get to choose which sneakers you put in your gym bag.

  • You have to pack lunch - you get to choose between a sandwich and leftovers.

  • You have to do your homework - you get to choose whether you have 5-minute movement breaks or “would you rather” breaks after 20 minutes of work

Build in some buffer

Intentionally build in some time each day for you and your family to catch your breath. This transition back to school will require you to flex cognitive and emotional muscles that you haven’t necessarily had to use for a few months. Your stamina will return in time. Until then, practice self-compassion and be mindful of not overcrowding your schedule. Whether it’s one night with no extracurriculars, using car rides to cultivate mindfulness practices (5-4-3-2-1, anyone?), or having family quiet time in which everyone is engaging in a preferred (and quiet) activity at the same time, it’ll be important to purposely carve out time to slow down and take care of yourselves.

Activity: 5-4-3-2-1 (aka, “Mindfulness I, Spy”)

List 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. You can modify the game in a few ways: you can draw it out by giving more detailed descriptions rather than simply listing the item (“I am touching the seat of the car; it is really soft when I brush my hand against it; it’s a little soft when I push on it” vs. “I can feel the car seat”). You can choose to stop after sight, touch, and sound. You can imagine favorite scents. You can substitute “taste” with “hope for”.

How WBMA can help

Whether it’s individual therapy for your child, parent coaching for yourself, a support group, educational testing, or med management, we here at WBMA are eager to help you during this time of transition. Give us a call (301-576-6044) today to learn more!


Janelle McCarthy, LGPC

Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor


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