Getting Back on Track After School Breaks

Vacations and school breaks are a great way for kids (and adults) to unwind, relax, and have a break from their day-to-day responsibilities. Kids don’t have to wake up early, pay attention all day, do homework – and if they are really lucky, they may get a break on chores and bedtimes too. This break from demands can make things much more pleasant in the household since parents get to avoid several common sources of power struggles. But as fun and relaxing as school vacations can be, they can also make it a real struggle to get kids back into a routine when it’s time to transition back to school. All of the sudden, things that normally are only mildly challenging to get your child to do, such as homework, chores, and going to bed on time, are now resulting in huge power struggles, arguing, and procrastination.

Fortunately, there are things that parents can do to avoid these troublesome transitions. First, even though your child is on break, try to keep some semblance of a routine throughout the day. The less structure that takes place during breaks, the more difficult it will be to get back into a routine once school resumes. Maintaining daily schedules for waking up and going to bed is helpful, as is ensuring that your child keeps up with chores and other activities. If you are able to send your child to a day camp that allows him to participate in fun-yet-structured activities during school hours, that would help maintain your child’s daily routine.

Many children also have difficulty transitioning back into a school routine because they have become used to engaging in fun activities (i.e., video games, watching television) for longer periods of time than they are accustomed to and without having to comply with many demands, such as homework or chores.

When transitioning back into the school routine, parents should be aware of the things they want their child to be doing as well as the fun activities or privileges she receives on a daily basis. This allows parents to set up a “contingency contract,” meaning that the child will only be allowed to receive privileges (e.g. television, special dessert, video games) after she has met all her expectations (complete homework, bathe, put dirty clothes in the hamper). Withholding privileges from your child until she has met her responsibilities is a highly effective motivator and allows parents to avoid power struggles and yelling.

It is normal for kids to experience some initial difficulty transitioning back into a school routine. But if you find that these transitions are causing so much defiance and tantrumming that your child has become unmanageable, it may be a sign of some kind of underlying psychological disorder. In this case, it might be a good idea to seek an evaluation by a child psychologist or psychiatrist in order to investigate whether any particular disorder might explain your child’s symptoms.

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V_LopesVasco Lopes, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist with expertise in the evaluation and treatment of children and adolescents with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), disruptive behaviors, aggression, severe temper tantrums, and emotional dysregulation. He has experience treating children through various modes of intervention including parent management training, cognitive behavior therapy, and school consultation. Dr. Lopes comes to the Child Mind Institute after completing a clinical fellowship in the Pediatric Emotion Regulation Laboratory (PERL) at Fordham University. Dr. Lopes earned his doctorate in school psychology from St. John’s University in 2011 and completed his predoctoral internship at Andrus, a day and residential treatment center for children with severe emotional disturbances. 

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