Workzone: Back to school is a grind for the whole family

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There is that special moment on the first day of school when the last child is out of the house and finally there is quiet.

It really is just a moment because, while most people think of back-to-school time as affecting just students, it is truly a time that affects the whole family. It is a return to structure for both children and parents.

Working parents come home to cook dinner, check homework and to try to get the children off the more relaxed summer schedule and into a stricter bedtime routine. Throw in a couple of extracurricular activities and it can be overwhelming.

Heather Duncan, a licensed professional counselor and registered nurse who is also a manager at Family Services of Western Pennsylvania, gets it.

Not only does she work with children and families who are going through the transition from summer to the school year, but her own daughter has cheerleading practice every night.

"The parents go back into a different structure. There's homework and packing lunches and trying to get the kids to school on time. It changes the whole family," she said.

Valerie Hoffer, a licensed marriage and family therapist and also a manager at Family Services, said the beginning of school is particularly hard because it kicks up a lot of anxiety for children wondering about their new teachers, new classroom rules and routines and whether their friends will be in their class.

Then there is the sleep issue.

Many parents try to enforce stricter bedtimes leading up to the beginning of school -- most fail.

That night before the first day can be the worst. Children can't sleep because of the excitement and they are irritable because they are tired. Parents are also losing sleep because their kids aren't sleeping.

Ms. Hoffer said the start of school often changes work schedules because someone has to get the children to school or the bus. Parents try to change their work schedules to accommodate school transportation. If they can't, they have to find someone to come in every morning to get the kids off to school, or they have to leave even earlier to get their children to before-school care.

On one hand, Ms. Hoffer said, "It's about getting back into the structure and routine that is requiring kids to get back into school and also the parents to get organized as well."

On the other hand, there is a feeling of loss: "It's a loss of freedom," she said.

All of it can cause behavioral problems, not just in children, but adults as well.

No wonder there are no happy songs about going back to school.

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Ann Belser: or 412-263-1699.


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