Back-to-School Q&A

Back-to-school season can feel busy and stressful–especially this year. In today’s episode I’m answering some of your back-to-school questions. Heads up, next week I’ll be starting a one-week special offer on Simple Families Foundations.

Hi there we are knee deep in back to school season, at least here in the U.S And my kids are officially back to school. We are all excited about it. I thought I would take today to talk a little bit about back to school stress. I know that back to school, stress is feeling different this year, a little heavier than usual. So I have a few questions from you all about back to school and the stress that you're under. So let's tackle that together today. Hi, this is Denaye. I'm the Founder of Simple Families. Simple Families is an online community for parents who are seeking a simpler more intentional life. In this show, we focus on minimalism with kids, positive parenting, family wellness, and decreasing the mental load. My perspectives are based in my firsthand experience, raising kids, but also rooted in my PhD in child development. So you're going to hear conversations that are based in research, but more importantly, real life. Thanks for joining us.

It is back to school season and back to school in 2021 looks very different than it did when I was a kid. And I know that as parents, a lot of us idealize, what back to school is going to look like for our kids. You know, they're going to have the new outfit and the fresh sneakers with a little sign, with their name on it and their teacher's name. They're going to smile for the picture run off with their friends and have an amazing day come home, happy and tired, but it doesn't always go down like that. I know one of my kids refuse to smile for the picture on the first day of school this year. And one of them totally broke down and cried the whole way home after the first day. And I have fear and worry about what the school year is going to look like.

We had the first day of school and then hurricane Ida hit. And we had two days off for power outages one day on two days off. And I'm wondering to myself, if that's going to be the overwhelming sentiment this year in and out on and off, and that uncertainty feels really heavy. And I know that all of you are facing a lot of stressors in the back to school season two. So I'm taking some of your questions today and sharing my thoughts. This is going to be kind of a rapid fire Q and a, which means I'm going to move quickly through some of these as always, if this stuff resonates with you, take it. If it doesn't leave it, the things that work for me may not work for you. So I'm going to jump right in. I have a question here that says I'm disagreeing with my child's teacher about the amount of homework for kinder.

He needs time to play exclamation point. This is a great question. I get a lot of questions about homework and what's the right amount of homework. If your kid has more homework than you would like, or you're wondering why they need homework at all, the first place to start is talking to their teacher and finding out what is the motivation for this homework. In the early years, a lot of times teachers assign homework to help kids get into the rhythm of doing some work at home to help establish that habit. And sometimes it's to keep parents in touch with what the kids are learning at school. So the parents see some of that work that they're doing at home. A conversation with the teacher is going to help you understand why this homework is important, or maybe why it's not, maybe it's optional, rarely will a teacher tell you that the homework is optional.

But if you share with them that you don't want your kid doing homework, especially in the early years, it might be open to negotiation. So approach with inquisition and kindness personally, in our family, my kids are early risers and we find it easier to do homework in the morning before school. That way after school, we can put the backpack down and not look at them again. So our energy is better in the morning. So we found that that works better for us. So, so that's something to consider changing up the time. I do encourage you that if you're going to do it in the afternoon after school, and you're going to say, well, you can't do your homework until you watch TV. Make sure that you're choosing your language carefully. Instead of saying no homework until you watch TV, say, first, you do your homework and then you can watch TV.

I know this is basically saying the same thing, but it makes a huge difference. In your tone, it goes from a threat to motivation, a reward and our language. And our tone can really add to that sense of dread that our kids experience around homework. So try making that little switch, see if it helps just a little bit. All right, the next question is, do my kids have separation anxiety or have they ever, and how do you handle it if they do? So, my son literally has always walked into a classroom and never looked back, never had any separation anxiety. My daughter had significant separation anxiety for the first several years of her life. I used to drop her off when she was an infant at the YMCA. So I could exercise and without fail, they would always come and get me. They had a rule where I think that the baby could cry for 15 or 20 minutes.

And then they came to get you out of your workout. And that always happened. We went three days a week. I was convinced that if I just kept it up and kept being consistent, that it would get better and never fail every single time that we went, I got about 15 minutes of a workout in and they came and got me. But at that point for my mental health, I needed that, that 15 minutes it was worth it. And she was okay. That 15 minutes helped me to be more present and more calm with her. Gave me just a tiny bit of break. Don't get me wrong. I would've liked more time, but don't underestimate the importance of little breaks too. When she started preschool she was 18 months and she was going in the mornings to a Montessori program. And she also cried every single day, the entire school year at off now I was dropping her off so that I could work.

It was important for her to be somewhere safe that she was cared for. So I could work. And I reminded myself of that when I dropped her off and it wasn't easy, but for our family was necessary. It did get better around the time she was about three and a half or four, but it's hard. And I don't think there is any one way to handle it. I think you need to do what's in the best interest of you and your child and your family and trust your gut on it. I think that if I would have chosen not to drop her off because of her crying, that it would have contributed to more maternal gatekeeping. We've talked a little bit about maternal gatekeeping on the podcast here, which is essentially when the mother is the one who's in charge of everything who makes all the rules, controls, everything takes everything on and maternal gatekeeping can be really exhausting.

It can be hard on maternal mental health. It can also be hard on partnership and marriage. And it was something that I was acutely aware of from the beginning. And it's still something that I have struggled with letting go of that control, trusting that other people can care for my children. Well, it's taken practice. It's taken a lot of trust, a lot of deep breaths, but it's something that I have gotten better at over the years. And I am glad that I got little bits of experience of that from the early days, because I do think it has helped me to find more balance as a mother.

Next question is I'm seeing other kids going to more expensive preschools thinking that they may be better. Now, I do think that there is something to be said, you very often get what you pay for, but that's not always the case. When we first moved to New York, I sent my kids to a Montessori school that was expensive and we weren't that happy with it. Actually, we really weren't happy. So we moved to a much less expensive play-based nursery school at our local church. And it was lovely. The teachers were wonderful. It was warm and nurturing, and my kids were happy. I think when you're looking at preschools, it's less about the facilities and the marketing and more about the people. So always look for good people, kind teachers. I once remember touring the school when my son was first starting preschool, when I was a brand new mom and they had this whole list on the brochure.

Like we have culinary classes in organic gardening and composting, and it was just like this really long laundry list of stuff. And I went into observe and I observed a cooking class for two year olds. And what it was is they were passing around an apple and practicing the word apple, which is great. But I don't know if I'd quite call it a cooking class for two year olds. And in reality, a lot of these things, these selling points that some of these more expensive schools have may not really have a ton of developmental benefits compared with the next school. My kid's local church, play-based nursery school. They planted seeds in little plastic cups. Maybe they didn't have this big, fancy organic garden, but who's to say that that's even really necessary. Our kids really don't need a lot of fancy things. They need warmth and connection and caring, loving adults.

Next question, all the tests and quizzes and not feeling like I can help my kiddos be prepared. So as parents, we are going to do our best, but it's also not our job to make sure that our kids are perfectly prepared for everything in life. There's going to be some things that they're unprepared for. There's going to be some things that they struggle with. Sometimes that they fail. It's not all on you. By the time your kid gets old enough for tests and quizzes, they should be in part responsible for the preparation too. So you can help to guide and to shape that process. But it's definitely not your responsibility to make sure it happens fully and completely. I'm going to pause to take a quick one minute word from our sponsor. The sponsor for today is a Native, Native is a natural deodorant company that cares about the products that you put on your body.

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So next month, getting out the door in the morning, why is it so hard? So I recently talked about on the podcast, our start the day schedule. If you haven't checked that out, I highly recommend it go to And you can print hours along with watching the video to see how we use it at home. I will tell you that this start the day form is what makes things work for us. It's what to keep us on track. Next question is I homeschooled my kids last year and sent them to school this year. Now they're asking to homeschool again, give it time. It takes a lot of time for kids to adjust. I've actually seen an estimate somewhere that it takes kids three months to adjust to big changes. And I believe that, of course, there's going to be a lot of variability there, but I think there's something to be said for that.

So don't make any decisions right away. Next question, my kids are so emotional all the time. Now why? Well, they're more tired. They're adjusting to a new schedule. They might need more sleep. They might need more cuddles, more connection with you. It's a lot of adjustment going on. So take lots of deep breaths and recognize that yes, most kids are going to be more emotional as the school year gets kicked off. And with COVID this year, I think most parents are going to be emotional too. Next question is what if my kids are behind as a parent, I think it's better to act as an advocate than try to be a teacher yourself. Sure. We can do some things at home to supplement our kids' education, but making sure that they're being provided for at school, getting what they need at school is maybe our most important job when it comes to their education.

So if you have concerns that your kids are behind talk to their teacher, no matter what the teacher says here in the U.S if you have concerns, you can always request educational testing, be done. Even if the teacher has no concerns and you have concerns yourself, next question is, I worry that my kids won't make friends and I haven't done enough to help this. The socialization process in early childhood, even in late childhood is awkward and slow making friends and keeping friends is a part of growing up. And a lot of it is learned on the job with practice. So when you say you haven't done enough to help this, cut yourself, some slack, a lot of this is going to happen with time and practice. And it's probably not going to go completely smooth. You are there to be a listener to be a safe place to land at the end of the day, to be an advocate for your kid, but you're not there to micromanage your kid's friendships.

Even if you see other adults doing that. All right, next is question about the very early mornings and all the things to do so early, especially a healthy breakfast. If breakfast is a struggle in your house, I encourage you. Don't feel like you need to get all that creative about it. My kids pretty much eat the same thing every morning. My son eats that cereal with the Panda on the front. I don't know what it's called. Um, so he heats that with milk and fruit. And I just try to load it up with blueberries or chopped up in nanos or something like that. So I kind of do like half fruit, half cereal with milk, and that's his breakfast like 90% of the time. And he's happy. I'm happy. I personally a little Debbie cake snacks and Kool-Aid every morning as a child and I turned out, okay, so I'm perfectly content serving him this for breakfast. My daughter eats oats, usually some oats with peanut butter, fruit, maple syrup. Every morning, he eats immediately. When he wakes up, he's starving. He has to eat. She does not like eating first thing in the morning. So she actually gets completely ready for school and eats just before she gets on the bus. And that took a while to figure that out for me. I tried to get her to eat first thing in the morning, right? When she got up and it was a struggle, she did not want to eat.

So following her internal rhythms has really helped the flow of our morning. Next and final question. My kindergartener hates school. The sitting all day says it's boring except for recess. So my kindergartener is actually telling me that same thing that she's sitting all day in her desk. And I know that that is not true. It's not that she's lying. It's just that her perception is possibly not accurate. I do know that she sits in her desk for part of the day, but I also know that they're up and moving around. In fact, her watch that she wears has a step tracker. And I can tell from that, that she's up and down and moving around all day long. So it is an adjustment spending time in her seat. But I also know that there there's more to it than that, but if you keep getting the reports that it's boring, it may be where the conversation with the teacher just saying, you know what? This is what my kid is saying. What are your thoughts? Do you see my child being bored in the classroom? Because sometimes when kids get bored, it means that the work is too hard or too easy.

And if the work is too hard or too easy, and the child's not engaged, sometimes behavior challenges can arise. So I do think that's something to kind of get ahead of if you keep getting that report over and over the last one I want to take is just a comment really. And it says, honestly, back to school has been awesome. And I love to hear this because I think there may be a sense of dread and a lot of us have the uncertainty and the unexpected that is coming, but sometimes it can be good. And maybe some of that is our mindset hoping and recognizing when it is good so that our kids can do the same. Thanks so much for tuning in today. I hope this has been helpful. Just a heads up. I'm getting ready to launch a special offer on Simple Family's foundation. So stay tuned for that. I'll be sharing more about that next week. Thanks for tuning in and have a good one.

Denaye Barahona

Denaye Barahona is a loving wife and mama of two. She's a therapist for moms, an author, and the host of the top-ranked Simple Families Podcast. Denaye holds a Ph.D. in Child Development and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. She has been featured on the likes of The Today Show, Netflix, The Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, Forbes, and numerous other media outlets.