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by Brittney Schrick - August 12, 2016
It's that time of year again. Some might even say, it's the most wonderful time of
the year: Back to school! Over the next few days and weeks, families will prepare
for and begin the new school year by switching back to normal bedtimes, collecting
school supplies and school clothes, digging backpacks and folders out of from under
beds or in closets, and helping psych kids up for the new year. To offer a little
help, here are a few tips for the new year.
Routines are wonderful tools. Some people have a knack for setting and keeping routines,
and others find it very difficult, but kids, despite how much they may protest, thrive
in routine. Routines cut down on anxiety, ease time management, and allow for increased
independence. Set clear expectations and allow for time to get into routine both at night and in the morning. It is a
good idea to begin the back to school routines before school actually begins. A few
days is usually sufficient, but some kids may need longer.
If you have a child who is just beginning school, is transitioning to a new school,
or is prone to anxiety, having routines in place helps them understand what to expect
and helps alleviate that anxiety. Adding some calming or reinforcement opportunities
throughout routines can be helpful for children who are nervous about school. Allowing
your child to choose a "theme song" to be listened to as they get ready or as they ride to school, giving them a bracelet, necklace, or other object to hold or fidget with when they are nervous, or setting a reinforcement system, such as putting a sticker on a calendar, for each day they get ready and off to
school smoothly are all ways to ease a child into a new environment.
Kids need consistency, and they also need rest. Kids and adolescents are less likely
to get the sleep they need during the school year due to busy schedules. Teens are at the highest risk for fatigue and lack of sleep because they are likely to go to bed later than younger children. In an effort to
give teens more freedom, many parents allow teens to go to bed when they are ready.
Because school days usually start early, give your kids time to sleep. If they have
to catch the bus at 6:45am (or even earlier), in order to get the 9-10 hours a night
they need to be healthy and alert, they need to go to bed by 8 or 9pm, and that is
giving them only around 45 minutes to get ready in the morning, which, let's face
it, is difficult. While older kids may balk at the earlier bed time, and some nights
it may be difficult to make it due to practices or other obligations, aim for the
same time every night.
Do as much as you can the night before to get ready for the morning. Have children
choose their clothes, pack backpacks, check homework, sign permission slips, etc.
at night rather than leaving it until morning. If your child takes a lunch, this prep may include packing their lunch at night.
Be sure to observe food safety practices to insure that their lunch stays safe to
eat. Store their lunch in the fridge overnight if it has anything that is not shelf
stable and place an ice pack in it in the morning. If you prepare your child's lunch,
be sure to give them healthy foods. Convenience foods like prepackaged chips and snack cakes are easy to throw in a
lunch box, but they are high in sugar and saturated fat and low in nutritional value
and may cause an afternoon crash. There are healthy options that will keep your child
healthy, full, and alert. They may take a little more prep time, but they don't have
to be any more expensive. There are lots of ideas for healthy lunches on our Pinterest board!
In order to streamline the morning routine, avoid morning screen time. Time flies
when a child is sitting watching TV or a tablet. Often, children who are, for example,
eating breakfast while watching a screen, do not eat or do not eat quickly enough
to leave on time. Some children may get upset if their show isn't over when it is
time to leave for school, so the screen adds stress to the morning. If you feel like your child can handle screen time before school, set limits such
as making sure they are completely ready to walk out the door (all the way down to
shoes and brushed hair) before turning anything on. An alternative to screen time may be listening to music. Upbeat wake-up music can get you and your kiddos going!
Offer your children healthy options for breakfast that they can prepare or get themselves. If you have time and inclination to prepare breakfast every morning, that's wonderful!
However, don't feel obligated to do that when other options exist. Many parents are
also getting ready for their day or corralling children, so having options available
that kids can eat on their own is a way to streamline breakfast. Although cereal and
toaster options are easy to prepare, they are often high in sugar or children get
bored with them over time. Preparing things ahead of time like pancakes, fruit bars, or scrambled eggs and freezing them can be an easy and
cost effective way of giving your kids variety at breakfast. Other options include
microwave oatmeal packets, granola bars, fruit, etc. Breakfast that is high in protein and low in sugar will keep your child full and keep them from hitting a mid-morning sugar crash.
Make sure your child is up early enough to get ready for school without rushing. It happens to everyone once in a while that someone's alarm doesn't go off or they
sleep through it; however, letting children (especially young ones) sleep late every
day causes rushing that adds unnecessary stress to the morning. Rushing often leads
to yelling, crying, and frustration. Getting up in time to get ready will help you
allow your child to move at their own pace rather than feeling like you need to stand
over them and repeat "Put your shoes on! Brush your hair! Did you eat breakfast yet?!"
For older kids, especially, it is important that they be able to get themselves ready
without constant reminders/nagging from parents. They are learning responsibility and time management, so giving them time to get ready is important. They will likely want to groom themselves
more than a younger child would, and they are less likely to want their parent to
help them. This independence includes setting their own alarm or making sure they
get out the door on time on their own. Checking to make sure they are up is helpful,
but let them try to get up on their own.
It is easy to get sucked into too many activities at the beginning of school. There
are sign-up sheets everywhere, and different clubs and organizations are asking for
you to volunteer and for your child to participate. Be thoughtful and intentional about what you sign up for and what you allow your child
to participate in. Especially if you have more than one child, you may find yourself constantly shuttling
children around to activities and meetings. Set limits on what activities your child(ren) can participate in. It is difficult to say no when they are excited about something, but they need to
learn to make choices and to have down time, and you need down time as well. It is
ok to say no to committees and parent boards and other things you may feel obligated
rather than excited to participate in. Find ways to plug in that fit your interests
Will your child be coming home to an empty house? Will you be picking them up and
taking them back to work with you? Will they have a babysitter or go to after school
care? Make sure your child knows what is going on and that you communicate with their teachers and all other necessary people what
they will be doing each day. Most schools have strict policies about pick-up/end-of-day
procedures. If your child typically walks home, but they are picked up when it is
raining, the school needs to know that. If you normally pick them up, but grandma
is getting them on Fridays, the school (and your child) needs to know that as well.
If you plan for your child to come home after school and stay alone, be sure you set
clear expectations for them so they understand what they can and cannot do. Our Family Life Friday "Home Alone" series outlines some issues of readiness, safety, and structure you should consider before leaving your child home alone. The more comfortable you
and your child are about their after school routine, the less anxious everyone will
Teens and Sleep: https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/teens-and-sleep
Back to school routines: https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/how-to-be-a-parent/back-school-get-good-routine-going/