I hate to be the one to say it, but school is starting soon.
While summer can mean the stress of finding child care while parents work, it can mean different things to different kids: carefree days, outside play, sleeping late, summer camps, travel, camping and exploration. It can also mean summer jobs, taking care of siblings, and working around the house.
For some, the lack of structure and routine can be challenging. Others relish this less-structured time, which allows for an opportunity to face and overcome challenges of boredom with surprising creativity. The value of unstructured, unsupervised play cannot be understated, yet transitioning from summer to school is not always an easy feat.
Going back to school can be hard for tots through teens — and parents too! School start times call for a morning routine that works. Because sleeping late is no longer an option, bedtimes — and their routines — need to be adjusted (see Martha Lewis’ Aug. 14 column “When school resumes, so should sleep routine”). Homework combined with extracurriculars requires discipline and time management. All of it can mean tired kids. The structure and pressures of going back to school can make life feel busy and stressed — feelings none of us want to have.
So much of having a harmonious family life comes from being intentional and proactive, so as we think about how life might change as school starts, let’s think about ways to alleviate some of the challenges before they start.
Routines, routines, routines
Routines can be a parent’s best friend when trying to help kids move through the day.
Establishing — or reestablishing — a morning and evening routine helps everyone get out of the house — and into bed — on time. Allow your teens and ’tweens to create their own morning and evening routines; no need to micromanage unless they make themselves or others in the household late, or their mood suggests they aren’t getting enough sleep. Give your elementary aged children as much independence as possible in establishing routines as well.
Toddlers, preschoolers and school-age children to whom this is new will need more support, but you can still bring them into the process. Support your child in listing all the tasks that need to be accomplished before leaving the house: getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, morning chores, etc., and let your child choose the order.
Make an art project out of creating a routine chart — draw pictures of the various tasks, use magazine photos, write the words for each job. Even if your child is preliterate, writing the words will help them begin to see the connection between written words and pictures. Then laminate it so it is permanent and can travel around the house (clear packaging tape can be used as quick and easy laminating).
Children are more likely to stick to a routine that they helped create, but don’t expect your child will seamlessly run through the routine chart on the first go. Teach your children the routine using the steps outlined in the May 29 Parent Talk column and practice it before school starts.
Make the routines fun and playful, though there’s no need for reward stickers. Simply crossing out each task with a dry erase marker might be exciting enough (as we all know how rewarding it can be to cross of an item on our own to-do lists). Acknowledge your children’s effort without elaborate praise or a blanket “good job.” For example, “Wow, you got through three steps in the morning routine all by yourself. Look how independent you are getting! Let’s see what parts are tripping you up.” If your child is balking at brushing his teeth, maybe offer a fun approach: “Do you want to stomp to the bathroom like a monster to brush your teeth or clank in there like a robot?”
The nice thing about routines for both children and teens is that once they are established, you can let the routine be the teacher. You no longer have to nag, remind or boss. Really, it’s important that as the parent you let go here. If the routine isn’t working, calmly discuss with your child about how it can be adjusted. You can also let natural consequences be the teacher — if your child is late for school, let her suffer the consequences the school gives for tardiness. If your child makes you late for work or siblings late for school, perhaps he needs to give back time to those family members by doing their chores for the week (and also adjust his routine).
Homework before screen time
Revisit your rules about digital media use. Having and using a digital device is a privilege. In the real world, taking care of one’s responsibilities usually comes before — and enables us to have — privileges. School work, contributions in the home (chores), and community service are all responsibilities that need to happen before a child is allowed the privilege of using a digital device.
Managing digital media use can be a slippery slope. Come to a mutual agreement and stick to it. Your child will know you mean business if you stick to your agreed consequence; for example, taking away the phone for a set time if the rules are not followed.
Set goals for your kids
Sit down with your kids and ask them what goals they have for themselves academically, personally, socially and with extracurriculars. Do they have hopes and expectations for themselves? Do they understand what it reasonably takes to accomplish their goals? Be realistic with them and help them figure out what it is they need to do to get to where they want to be.
Enjoy the remaining days of summer with your family. Spend some quality time together before the busy schedules resume. But also be sure to take a moment to talk intentionally with your kids about what going back to school will look like for everyone. A little bit of prep can go a long way to making the transition back into the classroom easier on everyone.