Focus on the Joy, Not the Struggle

Welcome to our Back-to-School Blog Series! This week, we are featuring a variety of professionals who are sharing their expertise to help make the back-to-school transition a little bit easier for students, parents, and educators. Jennifer Blankenship, of North Star Family Guidance, wrote today’s blog about how to keep the joy during the back-to-school transition:

It’s back to school time, and that means lots of videos of excited parents cheering for the school bus and memes of moms in pajamas with wine. But for families with children who struggle at school, the fall means the end to a relatively relaxing time without the stress of anxiety in the mornings, homework battles in the evening, and calls from the teachers during the day. You don’t have to wonder if this is the day that your child gets kicked out of preschool, of if your child has finally done enough to be expelled, or if there will be an angry child with a mountain of homework to wade through this evening (that you may or may not just end up doing yourself).

There is a lot of information out there for how to help with anxiety, keep your kids organized, and improve their emotional management skills (and I can help in these areas if you need it). But this blog isn’t about that. This blog is to remind you that even if you have an emotionally intense, behaviorally difficult child with poor emotional insight, you can and should still enjoy their childhood. Your child still deserves to experience all the joy and wonder that goes along with being a kid.

This is what I want you to hold on to: Your child is amazing, just as he is. Your child is absolutely delightful, just a she is. And I can promise you, he is doing the best he can. She is doing the best she can.

Even if the school year is made up of huge battles and small victories. Even if your child takes longer than you like to get ready in the morning. Even if you have the same conversation Every. Single. Day. Even if your child is getting “clipped down,” or “on red,” or getting dumb little sad faces on their daily progress reports.

You deserve to enjoy your child, even when the teacher is not particularly enjoying your child. Childhood is still short. You want to squeeze as much joy out of it as possible. So how do you do that?

Watch your child when she is really engaged in something that interests her. Really watch her. See her facial expressions, and intense concentration, and love of learning something new or doing her favorite thing. Watch your child when he is playing or having fun. See the smiles and hear the giggles. Get on your child’s level, sit on the floor and really tune in when she wants to tell you something. Give her your full attention, and notice her mannerisms and style of talking. All of these things make your child unique and precious.

Do those things on a regular basis, and especially when you are feeling overwhelmed with the struggles. Tune back into the delightfulness of your child.

Also remember these things:

You are your child’s Safe Place: If you get called in to the principal’s office, connect with your child first. Make eye contact. Smile even. Let him know you are on his side, even if what he did was clearly wrong. You don’t have to be angry or act angry just because the principal is angry. You have permission to parent your child differently. This does not mean that there aren’t consequences for the behavior. It just means that you can work it out together.

Be an ally, not an enemy: If your child is facing a mountain of homework, you have a choice. You can yell repeatedly to get working on it, or you can sit at the table beside him and offer some help-maybe even start by validating the feelings of overwhelm. If your child is really struggling with something, you can create a system with a bunch of rewards that he may never earn and consequences that he surely will, or you can sit down and have a problem-solving conversation about it. Kids have really creative ideas. Let’s trust that they know what is most helpful for them.

Allow room for grace: Have some grace for your child. If your child has intense emotions, struggles with anxiety, or ADHD, or social skills deficits, or learning deficits, they need a little extra grace. Whether diagnosed formally or not, if your child is having difficulty, have some grace. This grace should extend to teachers and administrators as well. Bonus points if you can even extend some grace to yourself. We are all just doing the best we can.

If your child’s struggles are becoming too much to manage, interfering with his or her success, or sucking the joy out of your family, please reach out today. I offer free consultations to talk about what might be helpful and to determine if we would be a good fit to work together.

About the Author

Jennifer Blankenship is a Licensed Independent Social Worker and Board-Certified Behavior Analyst with 20 years of experience working with children and families. Her private practice is located in Chagrin Falls, and focuses on children displaying off-track and difficult behaviors. Specialty areas also include twice exceptional students, children with Autism, and families living with anxiety related to food allergies. You can learn more about her practice at, email her at, or call 724-813-2065.