back to school success from a therapist.

Functional Ways to Set Your Kids Up for Back-to-School Success

aise your hand if you’re ready for the kids to go back to school! Whether you’re the mom or dad who counts down the days until summer ends and your precious little ones are out of your hair for a few hours every day, or you’re the parent who dreads having to part with your little guy or girl, this is for you. When it boils down to it, our job as parents consists of three things: to affirm, to nurture, and to set boundaries… four if you count trying to get tickets to the next Era Tours. We can’t all be perfect parents, right? Read on to learn how parenting attachment patterns play into how we can do these as the kids head back to school this year.

As we transition from little to no structure during the summer to a more rigid routine for back-to-school, I’m sure you’ve noticed that there can be a bit of pushback, grumbling, or resistance from your children. Rest assured, you’re not doing anything wrong. This is part of growing up and learning to adjust for your children. We want to talk about a few attachment or bonding styles that, when better understood from a psychological perspective, may help you ease your kids through this transition a bit more comfortably. This isn’t your typical back-to-school blog. We’re really diving deep into some serious parenting depths here, but not like too deep because let’s face it, we all have a LOT to manage already, right? Let’s get into it. 

Those duties we mentioned earlier – affirming, nurturing, and setting boundaries – are all part of what’s referred to by experts as a functional attachment style. The idea of what makes “functional” parents comes from Pia Mellody, author and lecturer on the childhood origins of emotional dysfunction. In order to understand a functional pattern, let’s first discuss dysfunctional patterns. Pia says that every parent has a pattern of attachment in their relationships with their children and that even the best parents cannot be “functional” 100% of the time. It’s important to understand that in describing the dysfunctional patterns, these are not to blame or shame, rather than to notice how one or the other may have affected you. 

Enmeshed Attachment Pattern of Parenting

 An enmeshed attachment style of parenting, while considered to be one of the dysfunctional attachment patterns, is a style where parents are still highly involved in their children’s lives. It just may not be in a healthy way. Pia describes Enmeshed as “energy from the child goes toward the parent” Some signs of this would be if there’s a lack of privacy between parents and children or if a parent expects their kid to be their best friend. Basically, when you see families and say quietly to yourself, “They could probably use some boundaries,” it’s probably because they fall within the enmeshed attachment pattern. If you’ve never said this, spoiler alert, you may be that family. This happens a lot with sick parents or if there are a lot of younger siblings and there is an older sibling who perhaps plays the role of a surrogate spouse. 

Abandonment/Neglect Attachment Pattern of Parenting

Aptly named, this one is a bit easier to explain. Pia describes the Abandonment/Neglect Attachment Pattern of Parenting as “energy from parent goes away from the child to something else”. This style of parenting is often found in parents who are emotionally unavailable, substance abusers, or perhaps in parents who have highly demanding jobs.

back to school coping therapy idea.

Functional Attachment Pattern of Parenting

The final attachment pattern, as described by Pia Mellody, is the functional style of parenting. This is when the energy of the parent goes toward the child. As we talked about earlier, the parent takes on the responsibility of affirming, nurturing, and setting boundaries for the child. 

That’s where we want to be as we jump back into the conversation about going back to school. 

So, we’ve got a great understanding of the different patterns of parenting. We all promptly set ourselves on the functional pattern shelf and picked out other parents we know as the ones who go on the enmeshed and others who go on the abandonment/neglect shelves, right? You can do that, but just know we all fall into each of the categories at one point or another. The idea is to shoot for functionality as much as possible and give grace to ourselves when we don’t. We may be parents, which makes us superheroes, but we are still human after all. Perfection is not realistic, especially when raising children. So, here are a few tips for spending as much of your time as you can in the functional pattern while heading back to school. 

How Does This Apply to Back-to-School and My Family?

When we affirm our children, we talk to them about how we’re able to support them and help them set their goals. It’s not about telling all the kids they’re great singers or handing out participation trophies. This is about getting to know your kid and talking to them. 

  • Work on connecting/conversations/free talk. 

Give kids the opportunity to talk about what they loved in the summer. Open the floor to allow them to discuss what they’re looking forward to, even if it’s not what you think they should be doing. The idea here is to listen to your kids – but listen to hear, not to respond.

  • Help your kids with setting goals.

This could be a part of what they’re looking forward to, or completely separate. Talk about big excitements for the year, not just goals, but big events and milestones that they’re excited about for the year to come. This can be anything from a play they’re excited about to the prom or a college tour. 

When we nurture our kids, we take care of their basic needs and self-care. This one seems like a no-brainer, but there are plenty of kids who fall under the enmeshed or abandonment/neglect parenting patterns who are out there trying to find their own basic needs. They turn into adults who never ask for what they need because their needs as children were never met, so why would they be met as adults? The little things matter.

  • back to school shopping as an example of functional parenting attachment pattern.Provide them with supplies and basic needs. 

Make sure they have their basic needs for back-to-school and are excited and engaged to use the items. Back-to-school shopping is a fun thing to do, which doubles as a way to ease anxiety for everyone while you get involved a little too. Let them pick out snacks, food, folders, backpacks, and even their haircut – all with the watchful guidance of their functional parent of course. 

  • Take them back-to-school shopping for clothes.

It goes without saying that what any of us wear, your kid included, is a great time for self-expression. You want them to feel good about what they’re wearing. So, allow their input in choosing what clothes are purchased, or you know as well as we do that they just won’t wear it, but most of all, they won’t feel confident in it. If your school requires uniforms, there will still be extra-curricular activities or social events that your growing child needs back-to-school clothes for. 

When we help our kids to set boundaries, we’re setting them up for a better future in general. We live in a civilized society with structure and boundaries that just work better when everyone follows them. These are mostly no-brainers, but we also can’t forget about the things like self-care and mental health. Imagine what the world would be like if everyone’s parents taught them how to care for themselves and then recapped it every year before school started.

  • Start to work on structure early.

It can be hard for your kid to transition from having no structure for the summer to being plopped into a rigid routine of school. You can ease this transition by beginning to put routines in place a couple of weeks in advance so they’re ready. Start to decrease their social media and screen time, and start with the earlier to bed / earlier to rise patterns too. Bring in mindfulness and being together as a family. Keep in mind that as a functionally patterned family, your energy is going toward the child.

  • Take care of yourself, too.

Yes, the functional pattern of parenting means energy goes toward the child, but if you aren’t taking care of yourself, you won’t have any energy to give to your child. Challenge yourself to do some self-care with structure and routines. Schedule that pedicure once a month. Never miss that massage appointment. Eat healthily and exercise regularly. Take care of yourself. Our kids follow our model and read our vibes so much more than we realize. If we feel balanced and grounded, our kids will too.

We hope this has helped you get in the right mindset for heading back to school with a functional pattern of parenting. Remember, there is no way to be a perfect parent, but a million ways to be a good one. We all have good days and bad ones. If you’d like to talk to someone, we’re here.


Where To Find Us!

Monday – Friday | 9am – 5pm
10613 N Hayden Rd, Ste J-100
& 10617 N Hayden Rd, Ste B-100
Scottsdale, AZ 85260

(Note we have 2 suites. Please check with your therapist to confirm where to go!)

Counselors in Haden Park Area