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 starts as soon as next week. Summer time and the livin’ was easy. Going, going, gone.
For some students the thought of going back to school is exciting. They can hardly wait to start. For others, just the thought of school and summer ending feels kind of sad. Different kids, different feelings. On top of that, different age kids consider school-starting differently. While the child may actually like school, the reality of summer ending is tough. Who doesn’t love summer? For others, they may like school, but the transition to all the newness is tricky. With teens the best part of going back to school is their friends. For others, the worst part of going back to school is the social scene. Again, different kids, different feelings.
For elementary school age children thinking about the start of school can churn up worries. What’s it going to be like? Will my friends still be my friends? New teachers, new classrooms, new friends, new expectations, new routines, new things to learn. 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 demanding 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 for some, the big 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.”
And with your teen, lead with listening and asking questions. “How are you feeling about going back to school? Is there any subject to which you are looking forward?” Empathize with his response when it isn’t what you dreamed. “I know how hard it is to go back to school.”
Introduce your child’s school-night bedtime before school starts. School-age children need 9 to 11 hours of sleep, and as they may have gone to bed later during the summer, sleep time usually needs to be adjusted for the start of school-nights. (Interestingly, research has shown us that people of all ages sleep better if they observe the same bedtime every night, weekends and summers included.)
With your elementary school age children and younger, 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.
You can imagine how hard it is to demand a “bed time” with your teens. We know that teen brains which are actually different than they were or will be, seem to trigger a later “sleepy time.” But an ongoing conversation about the importance of sleep and what it does for a person’s body may help, along with your modeling needing to go to sleep at a reasonable time.
Introduce your school night routine, 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 help your child reach calm and be 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 her day.
Unfortunately, you no longer the one who dictates your teen’s night time routines. However, you are the one who, with her input, who makes rules about devices in rooms, what time they shut down, etc… It is a conversation you will need to have as school begins. It is not a declaration.
Adjust your morning routine. A few days before school begins, introduce the school morning routine. A sure-fire way to start the morning out right with your young child — without fights about clothing and the like —is to follow this schedule:
- Snuggle time (Hopefully even your older kids still crave it!)
- Get dressed (Beginning at 4 years old, children choose their own clothing, hopefully laying out their outfits the night before, and dress themselves!)
- 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.)
- Brush teeth.
- Bonus time! (a few minutes on the computer (for older kids), a quick game of Go Fish or Uno or Lego time for the littles.)
As an aside, your teens should be responsible for getting themselves up. Don’t make her rising your responsibilitiy. Old fashioned alarm clocks with really loud ringers are still available. She will have to figure out her time needs when school begins; it is not anything you can impose on a teen. Let her experience the consequences of her choices in order to figure it out.
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 her where she will do her homework. Not only should she have her notebook supplies, but she can also feather her homework nest. The more involved she is, the more willing she will be to settle down and get to work when the time comes.
Obviously, with teens, you have little say in this area. You can, however, offer to accompany her on the school supply shopping trip. Teens do love being funded. Alternatively, you can trust her ability to get it done
When the school year has begun…
Create routines. Whether it’s helping you make lunches, when she does her homework, or when she does her 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 rules.
Do as much as you can do the night before. Help your child lay out her 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 she 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.
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. Her moments with you will stay with her throughout her whole day, reminding her that she belongs to a family who loves her.
A word about teens and their start of school.
As you well know, we parent teens differently than we parent our younger kids. The start of school can be just as “big” for them as it is for younger children. It is filled with many questions, issues, and worries about what is to come—sports pressures, college choices, social issues, post Covid transitions, etc… Know that a heavy hand is not the way to start the new school year. Not only is it likely to backfire, but it sets a bad tone for your relationship as the school year begins. Your rules and boundaries will evolve and result from conversations and collaborations.