If you have a kid that's prone to bullying or bossing you around, fasten your seat belts. The end of summer is here, and so are those bedazzling three little words: back-to-school.
Is there another phrase that produces more excitement, dread and mass hysteria in kids? What's beneath these over-the-top reactions?
Any social situation chockfull of mystery makes kids feel uneasy. The first day of school is teeming with unknowns: "What class will I be in? Will I make new friends? What if everyone hates me?"
When anxiety spikes, many kids start to discharge emotional tension by bullying their parents. As the worrisome day approaches, they may even morph into tiny tyrants. The more vulnerable and self-doubting children and teenagers feel, the more erratic and unstable they can become.
Kids who bully their parents are usually suffering from high levels of emotional stress. As insecurities grow, they have a corrosive effect on their mood, leaving them psychologically fatigued and incapable of self-soothing or controlling their aggressive impulses.
When the first day of school approaches and tension proliferates, kids often look for somewhere to dump their stress. And who is their favorite target? You guessed it, it's you.
Consider these five steps to preempt back-to-school bullying:
1. Increase exercise
Studies have shown that a cardio workout three times a week reduces anxiety up to 70 percent. If your kid has had a sloth-like summer, get him moving ASAP. The more tension he discharges through exercise, the less he'll discharge by bullying you.
2. Stabilize sleep schedule
Vampire-like sleep schedules are not uncommon for kids during summer. Your creature of the night will have a serious case of the grumpies when her waking hours have to shift back to the daytime. Do whatever it takes to get your kid back on a consistent sleep schedule a week or two before school starts to avoid the sleep-deprived crazes.
3. Organize the calendar
Structure soothes anxiety. As much as you can, get everything ready: review the class schedule (hanging it in the bedroom is a good idea), take a trip to school, help your kid reconnect with friends and formulate a plan together for the first week—when you'll eat breakfast, when you'll head to bed, etc. This kind of scheduling may seem mundane, but creating a framework together will help your kid chill-out when anxiety strikes.
4. Validate concerns
As the first day of school approaches, expect some moodiness and irritability. Maintain your leadership, and don't become over-reactive or escalate conflicts. Validate your kids concerns by listening and staying positive. Craft your communications to sooth anxieties rather than amplify them.
5. Prepare yourself
You've prepared your kid, now prepare yourself. Good childcare requires a heavy dose of self-care. Make sure you're not suffering from parent burnout. Get enough sleep, see friends that energize you, step out of your parent role and have some fun with your partner. You'll have more patience, more humor and more flexibility. And remember, with your kids heading back to school, soon you'll have your life back, too!
Sean Grover, LCSW, author of "When Kids Call the Shots," is a psychotherapist with more than 20 years experience working with adults and children. To learn what to do when you think your kids are calling the shots, check out Sean's other article for Parenting: "Do Your Kids Rule the Roost? Here's How to Regain Control." You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
©2015 Sean Grover, author of "When Kids Call the Shots: How to Seize Control from Your Darling Bully—and Enjoy Being a Parent Again."