I love September weather and the thrill of “back to school.” But I feel totally overwhelmed by about the third week of the month. And, as I’ve chatted with other parents, it’s clear I’m not alone. One friend even told me September is always a tough time for the stock market, too. Who knew?
Though I can’t comment on why the market tends to dip down, I can share some insight into why family life can feel so wild and how to balance it.
September is a month of change
The weather in September feels delightful in so many places, but so much is changing. Days are getting shorter, a second round of allergies are hitting (ah, the ragweed!), and the air gets crisper every day.
We add on a lot of human change, too. Many of us transition into new learning routines and activity schedules. And summer is a time when rules, rituals and routines relax, which makes September even more of an about face.
Change is challenging
We humans are amazing—but, like September, we are also full of contradictions. On one hand, we are remarkably adaptable, with brains that literally rewire themselves as we adjust to our environment and experience. On the other hand, we are wired to form habits, and we thrive in familiar routines.
This part about habits is especially true for smaller humans who are trying to organize brains around what matters most. Kids do not yet have the full use of the prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain that functions as the control center and allows us to think flexibly, regulate emotions, and stay centered as we manage stressors.
So, given how much is changing this time of year, it’s no wonder that kids may appear to be regressing and your home feels like Melt Down City, especially at the end of a day filled with new experiences. And, it’s no surprise we grown ups are all a bit tired, too.
How can we muster the patience to help them, and calm our fears that these setbacks will persist on the other side of this?
Knowing is half the battle
Knowing that feeling anxious or overwhelmed in September is common and that those feelings have understandable root causes can be a huge help. Sit with that idea, and if it helps you, talk with people you know about how they are feeling—the more the merrier in this boat!
Knowing can also help us give grace to our kiddos. If I am feeling the strain of all of this change with an adult brain, then how can I possibly expect more of my child?
How to support kids’ emotional swings
When kids are overwhelmed emotionally, they show a range of responses—from clinging to us to acting out, tantruming or struggling with siblings. All of those reactions are totally normal and to be expected during a time like this.
In the early days of COVID, the NYTimes Parenting’s “Why is My Big Kid Acting Like a Toddler?” reminded us that regression, the return to earlier stages of development, is how kids protect themselves from the impact of strong emotions. It might not make the fifth tantrum of the day delightful to endure. But knowing that regression is not only natural but also emotionally beneficial for our kids can reduce both the worry and our struggle to prevent it.
A few ways to smooth out the ride
Even if we can’t take away the disruption, there are ways to smooth things out so the highs and lows are not so extreme.
“Thoughts come and go. Feelings come and go. Find out what it is that remains.” —Ramana Marhashi
Give It Time
Remember that, soon enough, these new routines will be old routines. Life will naturally settle as we all form new habits—and it may already be getting better.
Practice mindful breathing with kids—giving you both a tool to center and cultivate calm. Set up a “calm spot” at home or just breathe together. This fall, Tinkergarten’s curriculum is focusing on Wellness, and each week we learn a new breathing exercise for just this reason. Watch how we introduce Belly Breath or Balloon Breath to kids to get some ideas.
Get outside and move
When tough moments hit, step outside or just open a window and take in some fresh air. Natural settings reduce stress, and the switch of scenery and sensory input can help kids and grown-ups regulate our emotions. At the very least, it can redirect their attention to help the moment pass. We end every day with a walk outside—even on days when the kids and I, quite literally, are all melting down by 5:30 p.m. By the end of our walk, we are back, tired and worn, but ready for dinner and some sweet cuddling.
Cuddle or soothe
Do this in a way that works for your child. Attention, reassurance and reminders that we are right here for them is what kids need most right now. Experts know that physical touch can enhance brain development and help regulate kids’ nervous systems. In other words, it’s exactly what they might need to break free of a negative cycle.
If your child seeks and readily receives physical affection, give loads of extra hugs, squeezes and touches. If kids will accept a hug when they are off the rails, hold and squeeze them through it. Or, wait until later and cuddle again before the day is through.
Build in mindful “you time”
We all need moments of solo, meditative time to repair. Even just 10 daily minutes of meditation in bed before kids wake up, a 7-minute workout while they watch a show, or a few moments in the bathroom for yourself can help.
Build in time for slow, meaningful connection with the people or even the places that “fill your bucket” as we say in Tinkergarten. Make spaces where everyone is welcome for who they are and for wherever they’re at today. We try to make every Tinkergarten class or community feel this way—and once you find that space, the roller coaster we’re on feels less frightening and so much more fun.
Even though the transition from summer can feel disruptive, lean into what’s next. Talk with kids about a brand new season starting. Wonder together what you hope to do, sense and experience this autumn. Tune into the very special things that are happening in your biome. Check out our Wishes for Fall DIY activity to get even more inspiration.