3 Back to School Rhythms For Families That Support Mental Health

Back to school marketing is in full swing and always ready to remind us that we will be in a new season before we know it. Whether you’re feeling overwhelmed or relieved that the new school year is close, for families with children a change in routine is inevitable. Whether this is your first back to school season or your eighteenth, it can be a good time to reflect on what works for your family as you transition to the fall and all the changes that the school year brings. The idea of creating family rhythms is less about a rigid schedule or practice and more about creating an expected part of your family’s schedule that supports your values. The idea of rhythms also leave room for flexibility. When you’re trying to establish a new rhythm and life gets in the way or something doesn’t go as planned, you don’t have to throw it out or give up. Rhythms are created over time and are more focused on small and sustainable changes than overhauling how your family functions or making lots of changes all at one time. Below are a few suggestions of rhythms you can incorporate into your rhythms as a family as you transition from summer to fall that can help to ground and connect your family despite the changes and demands of the school year.  

Carrie Campbell, LCSW-C Therapist Columbia, MD
Carrie Campbell, LCSW-C Therapist Columbia, MD

Tip 1: Take A Fresh Look at Dinnertime

The goal for gathering around the table to eat together is connection. Most families (and research!) would agree that there is value to time around the table as a family, but actually executing a family mealtime can be discouraging or feel impossible. There are lots of things that make dinner around the table as a family hard, like work schedules, homework, sports practices, accommodating food allergies, lack of support from a partner, grumbling from your kids, and the list goes on and on. And while all these barriers are valid, the fall transition can offer a fresh opportunity to try again.

Start small. If you are not in a regular practice of having meals together as a family, pick one night per week to try to have a meal as a family. Consider having nights that are busy with practices or rehearsals, be quick dinners like tacos or rotisserie chicken.  If you are already in the practice of it but are looking for more intentionality around mealtime, consider adding a simple practice to your meals. Instead of always asking “how was your day today?”, create a question jar that you keep on your table with age appropriate questions on little slips of paper. Consider who gets to choose the question or in what order. Set the example by being willing to answer first. You can tell your kids that they don’t have to participate, but express what it would mean to you if they did. For kids who are hard to win over, consider incentivizing giving authentic answers in some way. Or you could consider having the meal preparation be the family activity. Have jobs for everyone to get dinner on the table and crank up the music as you cook together. If this is not a normal way your family interacts, it will likely be awkward at first. That’s okay. The more your family realizes that this is what you do during family dinner and that some initial resistance isn’t going to make you give up completely, the more likely they are to try

Tip 2: Create Screen Time Rhythms That Actually Serve Your Family 

A season transition can also be a time to shift the rules and expectations around screen time, especially after summer when things tend to be more lax with a lack of responsibilities. Consider when engaging in screen time may be most helpful to your child and to you as the parent. Does it seem like your child really benefits from having screen time when they get home as a way to disconnect from the school day and spend time alone? Do you really need them to be engaged in something else while you are making dinner? Does screen time need to be used as an incentive for completing homework or other responsibilities? Does your child benefit from not using technology during the week and saving it as entertainment for the weekend? Is watching something together as a family during the week something that promotes bonding or shared experience? Remember that you can change expectations and rules around screen time. Just because they’ve been allowed to do something in the past or their friends are able to do things differently doesn’t mean that you can’t switch things up or try new rhythms. Remind your children not just of the limit but of other options they have and the purpose of limiting screen time instead of giving free reign. 


Tip 3: Start the Day With Gratitude

Morning time can be chaotic. When everyone has to get out the door and be ready for the day, there can be a lot of stress and frustration. But it is often a time you have with your family members before they engage with the rest of their world and therefore an opportunity to practice a new rhythm. We know that gratitude has a positive impact on our mood and our mental health, and yet we often only practice it formally at Thanksgiving. What if you created a way for your family to practice it each morning? You could each say something you’re grateful for in the car on the way to school. You could have a white board on the fridge where everyone writes something they’re grateful for that day. You could simply start reminding your child that you are grateful for them each morning before they leave the house. While we don’t want to force others into gratitude, creating a place in the day where it becomes a regular practice to name something they feel grateful for can help to give perspective for the day and to ground them in the present. 

There are often a mix of emotions that come up as we start a new season, and they might not always be the same every year. Remember that it’s okay for each person in your family to have feelings about a shifting of routine and seasons and to give each other grace as we fumble through big changes or needed shifts. As you seek to incorporate a new rhythm or two this fall, be kind to yourself when they don’t go as planned. It is okay to try and fail and start again. It is okay to have the best of intentions and lose steam along the way. But give yourself permission to make things awkward for the sake of connection and unity in your family. It’s worth it! 

Does your family need help connecting? If so, Family Therapy can be a great way to learn new communication skills and help the family get on the same page. Learn more by calling (443) 574-4295 or contact us.

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