By Sami Arseculeratne
Family Times is 20! To celebrate, we will pick one article from our archive each month – including this one, which appeared in our Back to School Issue in 2006. View our other anniversary content here.
The beginning of a new school year is prime time for settling back into healthy routines and for starting new habits to save time and avoid conflict. Here are some ways to structure and simplify school routines and avoid common pitfalls.
Establish new bedtimes and curfews. Pre-school and school-age children need at least 10 hours of sleep. Establish a reasonable bedtime and help them stick to it by observing a routine of tasks and preparations leading up to sleep.
Even older kids need plenty of rest to stay alert and active. A little leniency in bedtime can be used as a reward for waking up when they’re supposed to, and going to bed promptly.
Talk with older children about curfew changes, and discuss your reasons for extending times based on responsible behavior. Allow them to earn the right to stay out later on special days by respecting your rules.
Save morning stress by preparing the night before. Taking time each evening to prepare lunches and get together breakfast ingredients will encourage healthier food choices on busy mornings. Try taking lunches on certain days and buying from the cafeteria on others to add variety and save time on evenings that are busy with extracurricular activities.
Choosing and laying out clothing the night before will ease the hustle and bustle of early morning rushes. Parents may also find it easier to veto certain clothing choices, especially for pre-teens, when there is sufficient time to make changes.
Limit structured activities and increase family time. Parents load their children’s schedules with a variety of activities – from martial arts to music to scouting – in order to round out their educational experience. Yet many youngsters with hectic schedules are left tired and burned out at the end of the day. Talk with your child about the activities they most enjoy and decide which they might want to drop.
Limiting after-school activities will also leave more time for the child to prepare for school the following day and get the rest they need.
Establish a family routine, like sitting down to dinner together at the table at least three or four times a week. Use the time to hear about your child’s day, to help them work through little problems and issues that pop up, and to talk about something funny or interesting that happened that day.
Share, when appropriate, some of the challenges you face at work or at home, and listen to your child’s “advice” on possible solutions. Parents often learn as much from their children as their children learn from them.
Avoid last-minute surprises by planning ahead. Create or buy a large calendar and hang it in a central place where family members can add their activities and appointments. Knowing that the bake sale is next Thursday will help avoid last-minute trips to the grocery store and will minimize schedule disruptions.
Encourage your child to add their activities and important deadlines to the calendar. He or she will learn to prepare for an important event, and ease the night-before anxiety. Knowing that your child has a spelling test on Tuesday will remind you to quiz them at bedtime or in the car on the way to school. You can also ensure they have a good night’s sleep and a nourishing breakfast.
Organize student-friendly spaces. Establish your child’s homework zone in a location that will give them some quiet but still allow you to keep an eye on their progress. Make sure that the area is spacious enough and is well stocked with pencils, pens and other supplies. Is the location adequately lighted and away from the television and other distractions?
Help your child find what they are looking for and avoid frantic searches by keeping things like shoes, backpacks and homework assignments in the same place every day. This practice teaches continuity, organization, and helps save time. Choose an out-of-the-way yet easily visible spot to minimize tripping over items or forgetting to grab them on the way out the door.
Take steps to ease separation anxiety. Jot a note on a paper napkin and tuck into your child’s lunch for a midday reminder that you are thinking of them. Fold a colorful note and place discretely in their backpack for an afternoon pick-me-up.
Talk about the exciting day ahead on the night before and answer any questions or offer advice on solving problems your child might face. Let them know that you will be thinking of them.
Even older children will experience bouts of insecurity and fear on the first day back to school or when adjusting to a new place. Help them prepare for the situation and keep away first-day jitters by assuring them that these feelings are normal and point out ways they can overcome simple obstacles.
Starting out the school year with positive habits will provide structure and still leave enough time to balance work with play. Discuss changes with your child and ask for their input in helping you make decisions. Along with the excitement of new school supplies, back-to-school clothes, and new teachers, comes the opportunity to organize, approach school confidently and learn from new experiences.