It’s mid-August… that means summer vacation is creeping to an end, depending upon your child’s first day of school. For some it even starts next week. Summer time and the livin’ was easy!
Just thinking about the start of school can be stressful for kids. New teachers, new classrooms, new friends, new expectations, new routines. On top of that, just getting back into the swing of things–the school day routines–is not only stress producing but it can be a real challenge after the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.
Researchers believe that the brains of humans evolved to feel calmed by repetitive behavior and that our daily routines help us to manage stress. (Do you always drive to work the same way, despite all the other routes? How about the order of getting dressed—first shower, then tooth brushing, then deodorant?) Daily routines and rituals help us feel in control. And so it is with children as they begin their school year with all the adjustments they need to make from the more carefree summer life to the hurry-up-we’re-going-to-be-late-school year.
A mindful transition from summer to the school year, done gradually and purposefully before school actually starts, will go a long way towards easing that transition and lessening the new year stress and jitters.
Here are some tips for starting the school year off smoothly:
Mind your attitude. Not all children are excited about the start of school, but a positive attitude can be contagious. Instead of saying things like, “Your teacher won’t allow that kind of behavior in school,” try being positive by saying, “I know your teacher will be so excited to hear all about our trip to the mountains.”
Help an older child get fired up about what he might learn this school year: “This is the year that you get to study astronomy. I can’t wait for you to teach me which star is which.”
Introduce your child’s school night bedtime before school starts. School-age children need 9 to 11 hours of sleep, and while they may that during the summer, sleep usually starts later than is good for a school night. Seven days before the start of school, begin bedtime 15 minutes earlier. Each night, take it back a few more minutes, until you reach the desired bed time.
Your child should awaken naturally in the morning after she has the amount of sleep she needs. If she does not, you will need to adjust her bedtime earlier. She needs to become accustomed to getting up at the time that works for her and for you on school days.
Introduce your school night routine, including the timing, a full week before the actual start of school. While you may have allowed TV or tech time before bed in the summer, it may not be a great way to get your child calm and ready for bed on a school night. Researchers tell us that the blue light emitted from screens actually undermines our ability to fall asleep. Go back to your routine of bath/shower, books and tuck time. Get back to your low-key rituals that include an intimate bed time chat, downloading his day.
Adjust your morning routine. A week before school begins, introduce the school morning routine. A sure-fire way to start the morning out right — without fights about clothing and the like — is to follow this schedule:
1. Snuggle time (Hopefully even your older kids still crave it!)
2. Get dressed (Beginning at 4 years old, children choose their own clothing, hopefully laying out their outfits the night before, and dress themselves!)
3. Eat breakfast, but only after your child is fully dressed. (If you are worried that he will get his school clothes dirty, throw on one of your old tee shirts over his clothes.)
4. Brush teeth.
5. Bonus time! (a few minutes on the computer (for older kids), a quick game of Go Fish or Uno for the littles.)
Designate and make ready a homework place. For even the most reluctant child, there’s nothing quite like brand new school supplies. (Remember?) After you have shopped with your child, decide with him where he will do his homework. Not only should he have his notebook supplies, but he can also feather his homework nest. The more involved he is, the more willing he will be to settle down and get to work when the time comes.
When the school year begins…
Create routines. Whether it’s helping you make lunches, when and where he does his homework, or when he does his chores, routines help the child to stay on track.
Have rules. Each family will have a different idea about TV/tech time during the week. Have a family meeting to discuss your ideas. Be sure to solicit your child’s opinion, and compromise where you can. Children who are involved in the rule-making are more likely to stick to them.
Do as much as you can do the night before. Help your child lay out his clothes (if necessary); set the table for breakfast; make the lunches; put the grounds in the coffee maker; put out trip slips, backpacks and anything that needs to go to school by the exit door.
Set your own alarm clock earlier. I know you’ll hate this one, and I am sorry. But hurrying is the enemy of children. Set your alarm clock 10 minutes earlier than you think you need. If you are not rushed, you will be more relaxed with your child. You will be just that much more available to your child, and he won’t need to act out to get your attention. A chaotic, hurried atmosphere doesn’t make for a great school day send off.
Overestimate your family’s prep time. However long you think it will take everyone to get ready for school… double it! If there is extra time, spend it doing something fun, even unexpected with your child. It will help to start her day off happily, and it is much better than rushing her.
Eat breakfast together. Spending a little quality time at the breakfast table together (not reading the news, not checking email, not focused on the food that is or isn’t being eaten!), goes a long way toward filling your child’s tank. His moments with you will stay with him throughout his whole day, reminding him that he belongs to a family who loves him.