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Navigating the Back to School Transition with Beth Reeder Johnson

Hey SOJers!
How has the transition of BTS (back to school) gone? If your household is like mine, we had good days and bad days this first full week. Sometimes they cried, sometimes I cried. . . . in a Starbucks parking lot post dropoff last Thursday. This week I thought it might be helpful to get some wisdom from Beth Reeder Johnson, MSW, LCSW, a licensed Psychiatric Social Worker and Individual, Family & Couples Therapist. I asked Beth what she recommends to her clients (kids and parents) to help ease out of slow summer and into frenetic fall.Grab a latte, (don’t worry, I am not still crying in the Starbucks parking lot, that’s some other woman) and enjoy this post. If you’ve got some great BTS hacks I’d love to hear about them in the comments section.XOXO

Kate + The Saints of June 

Navigating the Back to School Transition:Techniques to Release Stress

Each and every year, we cherish the last few days of the lazy summer.  We relish time with friends and family that moves at a less hectic pace.  No school meetings, no homework, no packing lunches, no dolling out lunch money, no frantically washing a forgotten uniform, no teacher conferences, and no PTA jobs.  There is a slow tranquility that can recharge us whether we are staying at home with our children or heading out to do what needs to be done with the peaceful satisfaction that they serve turkey sandwiches at robotics camp.

And yet, if you are like me, an antsy feeling starts nagging at you towards the end of July.  You start getting emails about fall sports, musical tryouts, supply lists, back to school meetings, and perhaps you even want to scream, “WAIT, IM NOT FINISHED WITH MY NICE, RELAXING SUMMER YET!”

So, the back to school transition, like so many other transitions and hectic times, gives us a clear choice about how we want to handle the changes in our life.  Change is constant, and we can spend our lives fighting it or we can accept it. Maybe this seems overly simplistic, but those are our options. And yet, even though down deep we know getting mad in carpool traffic or frustrated when we examine a back to school supply list is futile, we can still get caught up in the momentum of stress and fighting life’s transitions.

On a lazy Thursday in late July, I took off work to have a pool day with a friend and our kids.  While there was a lull in conversation, I checked my email to learn that a school meeting had been scheduled for August 5th or 6th.  The email instructed the parent to pick the date that worked for them, and that it was very important that both the parent and child attend. A series of angry thoughts rushed through my mind. “We are scheduled to be on vacation until August 10th.”  “School does not start until August 22!” “I have heard of meetings the week before school starts, but two weeks before.  Give me a break!”

In that moment, I had two choices as to where I could send my attention.

Choice A: I could continue to let my angry thoughts flow and stew internally about the injustice of such a meeting.  Perhaps I could plan a reply email with a subtle, passive aggressive message with just enough sting to let the sender know they were in the wrong in the timing of the meeting.

Choice B: I could choose acceptance. In every moment of our lives we choose to either reject or accept the present circumstances.  If I accept that they planned a meeting that I will not be able to attend, I can then express that I would like to try to schedule a make-up meeting to gather the needed information.  I can let go of any stress, hostile feelings, or resentment around the initial meeting. The reality is I cannot attend, and that is okay. I will be out of town. No one planned this meeting to irk me, and it will be helpful for the families who can go.

Because I accept a situation, it does not mean I do not act or respond.  It just means that when I do respond, it is from a place of acceptance, peace, and release.  I remind myself that I can choose where I send my attention, and how I choose to think about the transitions in life.  I have the ability to release and reframe any negative thoughts and choose to see the good in any situation.

Accepting life as it comes is a powerful tool.  As soon as we accept a life transition, we become open and fully present in the process.  Instead of living in our heads and resenting what is happening (“I hate back to school traffic!”), we can be open, present and curious. (“I am so curious about all the amazing things you will experience this school year.”)  Acceptance leaves a lot of room for fun, humor, planning, trial and error, and connection. I want my child to remember these back to school transitions as fun times where we are connected and excited together about the upcoming school year, rather than stress, frazzled, and complaining.

So, whether it is back to school, transitioning to the holidays, or preparing for the madness of May, you can move through these recurring transitions with an inner sense of peace and harmony.  Here is a simple action plan that can help whenever you are faced with a negative or disturbing thought.

Step 1) Acknowledge that you have had a disturbing or negative thought.  Especially take note if you are fighting with life. Just notice it. Just noticing it gives it less power.  By noticing your thought, you can distinguish it as separate from you. You are not your thoughts. They are just one part of your mind’s experience.

Step 2) Take a big deep breath. (Some people like to breathe between each step and the intentionally exhale out all their negativity.)

Step 3) Ask yourself, “Am I fighting life rather than accepting this natural transition?” “Is this a big problem or a small problem?” “Will this situation matter to me in two weeks?”“Do I want to hold negative energy around any problem?”

Step 4) Release the negative thought.  Visualize the thought floating away and out of awareness.

Step 5) Say a positive mantra to yourself.  It can be anything as long as it is positive, specific and present tense.

“I accept life as it comes, I am capable of handling change, and good things are happening and will continue to happen.”

Our lives are bombarded with change, and we get to choose how to think about that change. Acceptance and seeing the positive can transform our lives and relationships.  Thank you for letting me share, and I wish you and your family a peaceful, happy back to school transition!

Beth Reeder Johnson, MSW, LCSW

Individual, Family & Couples Therapist

Beth Reeder Johnson, MSW, LCSW is a licensed Psychiatric Social Worker and Individual, Family & Couples Therapist with over 17 years of experience working with adolescents, adults, couples, families, and groups.  She is also a Certified Imago Therapist trained to help couples communicate, resolve conflict, and reconnect. Before she started her private practice in 2008, Beth was an Individual and Family Therapist at Children’s Medical Center, Center for Pediatric Psychiatry.  She also worked as a therapist and the Program Manager for Dallas MetroCare Services’ Westside Family Clinic.

In addition to earning a Masters Degree at Boston College, Beth is a Board-Approved Supervisor recognized to train other therapists. She is a member of the National Association of Social Workers, Imago Relationships International (IRI), and the Collaborative Law Institute of Texas. Beth is a routine guest on One Life Radio, a frequent speaker, and she is an organizational consultant with a focus on building cohesive teams and enhancing Relationship Wellness Skills©. Beth resides in Dallas with her husband of 22 years and their son