It is around this time of year that the phone at our clinic rings off the hook. I hear from parents everywhere that their kids are struggling. Teachers and principals know this struggle well too. Everywhere you turn people are starting to look bedraggled. And everywhere you listen you can hear the exhaustion starting to creep into the voices of grown-ups and children alike.
The October Crash.
Why does this happen every year? Simple. This is a function of the human psyche.
As each new school year begins we are well aware of what is involved in taking on all of what is to come. Early mornings, days full of expectations and work, evenings full of assignments and extracurriculars, weekends meant to be relaxing but instead full of the lists of things that you didn’t have time to get to through the week.
At the very start of the year we cannot fathom a direct look at all of this. We know it is coming. We know we will soon be in it. We understand there to be no way around it. But that is all too discomforting to stare at directly.
So we resolve our cognitive dissonance about this by focusing instead on the glossy bits. We talk about how having some structure will be lovely after the open-ended days of summer. We talk about how great it will be to see all of our friends again at school. And we pull out all of our Crock Pot recipes, with fantasies of our family snuggled around the kitchen table being replenished by fortifying bowls of steaming hot stew on chilly fall evenings. With homemade biscuits. Of course.
But pretty soon the reality of what it actually takes to get through a school year can no longer be ignored. The weeks have piled up now of not having quite enough sleep. The demands of work and school and activities and expectations continue to press in. And as the adults take on the stress of that – of course, so do the children.
And then the bottom falls out of it all.
Your kids are digging in their heels about heading off to their activities. School mornings have become frantic as the snooze button is pushed too many times. This tension spills over into the day with escalating sibling blow-outs. Your child has started chewing his nails again. And is having difficulty getting to sleep at night. And isn’t wanting to go to school. Every. Single. Morning. The call comes from the teacher saying he isn’t settling in as hoped. Maybe you ought to think of getting him assessed. Or taking him to see a therapist.
You just want it all to go away.
And your children just want it all to go away.
How do we make it all go away…without really being able to have it all go away? Imbedded as we are in our lives and the structures of school and activities and other things, what is a parent to do? How do we survive the October crash and find a way to not just survive, but thrive, the rest of this school year?
Here are a few ideas – flowing from the science of child development, and from your worthy heart:
(1) Just say no.
While lots of times we think we do not have a say in all of this, the truth is, we do. We can say no to birthday party invitations. We can cancel the planned dinner party. We can skip a basketball practice. The world will not stop spinning. And the friends, families, and coaches that you really ought to have in your life will understand why sometimes a ‘no’ is required so we can all be our best selves.
(2) Go easy.
Go easy on yourself and on your children. It is okay if a ball gets dropped. Resilience will spring forward from the days when the PE strip got forgotten. Or the meeting got missed. Be gentle with yourselves as you take on the truly overwhelming demands of life. It will be okay. You will see.
(3) Keep it simple.
Sometimes we are our own worst enemies. Try to just take things down to the most elemental and simple bottom line. And set this as your new expectation for self and for others. Out of simplicity often emerges room for creativity and also for comforting quiet. Can’t handle getting all of the Halloween décor out this year. Grab a prelit pumpkin at the craft store and call it a day. Your kids will be far more likely to enjoy that particular fall evening if you are happy and settled and ‘available’.
(4) Look to your village.
We are a social species by design. We are meant to be in relationship with one another. We are supposed to marinate in the sustenance of those connections. So look to your village for support. Can you carpool for kids’ activities rather than run yourself into the ground trying to get to all of them? Is there a support teacher or someone at your child’s school that you could have as part of your ‘team” – reach out to them and start that conversation. Collect the others in your community who can extend some support to you. You were never meant to go this alone.
(5) Seek the joy.
There is so much research about how our frame of mind really does impact our physical and mental health. My good friend Michele Lilyanna with her co-author James Baraz, just released a beautiful new book about awakening joy in children. Rick Hansen writes about this in Hardwiring Happiness. And an inspiring little girl I have the good fortune to know recently released her own amazing book about finding gratitude and joy in every day – and how this can change one’s world. So look around you. Even in the blah-ness of October there is joy sparkling somewhere.
(6) Take care.
When life gets busy and we are increasingly pressed for time, we can sometimes let go of the things that matter so much in keeping us going. Nutrition. Sleep. Exercise. And generally, self-care. But these things matter. They matter much more than homework. They matter much more than swim practice. They matter much more than an after hours work meeting. Ariana Huffington’s newest read, The Sleep Revolution, along with her book Thrive encourages us all to contemplate how much more productive we can be with the time available to us if we first take the time we need to tend to the needs of ourselves. No excuses or guilt required. You are of no use to anyone if you are down on the ground gasping for air.
So as the shiny promises of a new school year wear off, and you feel yourselves and your children crumbling under the crazy pressures of surviving it all, just know that there is a way through it. There is a way around it. We do have some choice in this. And we can rework our mindset to one that is much more aligned with the needs of ourselves, our children, and our families.
You owe nothing to the world.
It is in nurturing of self, children, and family that you will find your rest.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
You’ve got this.