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September school return – pleasure or a curse?

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I say this after every holiday. BUT I’m finding September really tough. Is anyone else?

It seems like it taken a long time to get to September, after focusing on it for the last 7 weeks and now it has finally arrived, I’m not sure whether it is a blessing or a curse. The kids finished school all the way back in July and trying to be prepared ready for the summer holidays, I had my little timetable up on the wall of all the days we would be spending together before their return to school. My kids were off for nearly 7 weeks – Yes 7 WEEKS!!! But I knew I could do this. Let’s be honest, every parent has an element of dread for the summer holidays as they are so long and take up a lot of your energy. Some parents are having to balance work with the kids being at home all day or having to find alternative child care arrangements. I am lucky I suppose that my work is looking after the kids and so I am free and available every single day.

Walking through the tunnel of the summer holidays went well for me though. After all the anxiety how to entertain the little darlings, I think I pulled it out of the bag and although there were good days and bad, the children reported back it was the best summer holidays ever. Go me!!

But at the end of the tunnel was the light of returning to school. It was the day we were all working towards. I’m sure I am not alone when you say to yourself ‘One more week and I can have some time to myself’, or ‘I just need to get through this last weekend and then I can have a cup of tea in peace’. By the time we were at the light though, I wasn’t sure if it was the end of the tunnel or a big freight train coming fast towards me.

Both of my children have experienced childhood trauma and so the closer we got to that light, the higher their anxieties became. My energy levels were running low and their anxiety levels were as high as they could be. Although I was lucky that there were no school changes this year, the levels of unpredictability were still huge. So many transitions for them to try and understand with that negative voice in their heads telling them all the time how everything is going to go wrong. It was just so overwhelming for them. And therefore for me too.

Looking at some of the changes they had to face, I understand why it was such a challenge; new classroom, new entrance gate, new timetable, new teachers. Just one of these would be a struggle but my neurodivergent kids were facing all of them. On the same day. All at once. I took a step back and tried to work out how I could support them through all of this. Obviously, I am not in their school and have no power to support them there so what other options could I use? I realised that I could still be there to help them by taking control of the emotional tone in the home. I kept things routined and predictable. I talked to them about what to expect, even showing them the new school entrances from the car parks. I reassured them that although it was going to be tough, it would be ok because I was always going to be here waiting for them. I didn’t do any return to school shopping until the final days of the holidays. I made sure I had food that they liked to go in their lunchboxes and, as they returned back on different days, they each chose the dinner for the night of their first day back. When they were rude to me as their feelings of anxiety overwhelmed them, I didn’t take it personally but spoke to them about how they were coming across; ‘You sound really angry right now, I wonder if….’ We spent time together playing board games or colouring rather than them playing on the Xbox in their rooms. And most importantly, after their first day at school, I spent time with them listening to everything that had happened and regulating their emotions for them.

We are now a few weeks in and I am sitting in the peace and quiet, having a cup of tea, listening to the dog snoring, thinking of how things have been. The answer is not easy. I am hoping that some of you will relate to this. I seem to have lost the lovely, kind, calm children I spent my summer holidays with and there are now two anxious boys living in my house who are totally exhausted. They are so tired from holding it together all day. They are so tired of trying to work out how to make everyone happy with them all day. They are so tired of just surviving all day. Can they admit that they are feeling this tired? No. Because if they admit that they are tired then they are not strong enough to keep themselves safe. Luckily I haven’t received a phone call from school about detentions or isolations … yet. I am keeping things predictable and as calm as possible, without it being boring for them. I am understanding how what can seem small things to me, are huge for them and this will send them over the edge into meltdown. Just because they are back in school, doesn’t mean that things are now easy for me. I am still recharging my batteries after the holidays and now I find myself holding their fragile emotions when they are at home.

Why am I writing this? Is it so I can wallow in self-pity? Is it because I just want to offload? It might be, you tell me. The main reason though is that I don’t want anyone else to feel that the September return to school has been good for everyone else except me. I don’t want any parent to feel they are going through similar things on their own. If you are struggling right now, be kind to yourself. If possible, when the kids are at school, have some you time. No matter how frustrated you are with the school or the system, remember, you aren’t in this to change schools. They either get it or they don’t. Use your energy to look after you and for being present for the children. Join a listening circle, watch a webinar or even book an empathic listening session to allow yourself time to offload. You are the most important person in this situation and so you must look after you before you can look after anyone else. Good Luck to each of you. - Written by Amanda Mauger- Jones

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