Breaks are complicated.

On one hand, they gift us the time to slow down and enjoy lazy mornings with flexible schedules. Yet, with this metaphorical exhale comes a sharp inhale as the structureless hours of the day give way to increased screen time, incessant requests for snacks, declarations of boredom, and the like. Then suddenly, despite the overwhelming love we have for our children, we find ourselves counting the days until school resumes – for routine and structure to deliver order back to our lives. Thus, the cycle continues and begs the question: How can I, as a parent, make this transition easier?

As an adult, it is easy to control the transition process:  to organize the backpack, to lay out the clothing, to pack the lunchbox. In other words, by carrying the mental lifting, we rob our children of the opportunity to learn executive functioning skills in an organic way. What’s more, when we do things for our children, we send the message that we don’t trust them to complete these tasks properly without our support.

To seize this opportunity for growth, consider what you can “ask” in place of what you can “tell” your child:

Tell: “You need to be prepared tomorrow. Please make sure you get your backpack, clothes, and lunch ready.”

Ask: “It’s hard to shift back into school-mode sometimes. What do you think you can do tonight to make tomorrow a great success?”

This is not to say you should leave your little person to their own devices and hope for the best. This is not an exercise in abandonment; the goal is not to cause stress in your little one.

Consider the following example as a way to provide passive support in a way that encourages brain development:

Put on a little show for your kiddo by modeling this process for yourself in “think aloud” format. For example, “I need to get ready for work tomorrow. I think I’ll pack myself a healthy lunch tonight, so that I can do my best work tomorrow with a full and happy belly. I know that mornings can be super busy. I’m going to pick out my clothes so that I can make the morning go as smoothly as possible. Will you help me check the weather, so that I can decide what to pick out? Hm. I wonder where I can find that information?”

As we make this seasonal shift together, be it the first or second Monday back, consider transitioning your communication from “tell” to “ask.” By doing this, we provide our children with opportunities to build self-concept by solving problems with greater independence. What’s more, we scaffold this building of independence in a low-risk environment where mistakes can be made with little consequence. The result? Less mental lifting on the part of a tired parent, a family unit that feels more equipped to manage transitions, and stronger self-concept for our littles. Win-win.

Jenna Myers

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