New Year, New Gear. 10 back to school tips for the whole family

By: Stephanie Lopraino, B.A ED

Some people might say that back to school is the most wonderful time of the year but for many it can be a nightmare. Most parents are happy to hand their children off to teachers after many long and hot unstructured days of summer. The days of sleeping in, endless play and staying up late are coming to an end. Getting back into a scheduled routine can be tough and not to mention all the preparation involved; buying school supplies, clothing and lunches etc. It can be a hard transition for the whole family. Here are 10 tips to take this new school year into gear stress-free.

1- Get to bed on time. Children need routine. It helps them to feel safe especially in times of transitions like back to school. Often, families try and squeeze in a last fun summer adventure right at the end, but that can make things worse. You really need to start this adjustment early. It’s obvious that sleep is essential, but routines can’t be adjusted overnight- literally. Based on the age of your child, set an appropriate bedtime and consider creating a wind-down period one hour before the set bedtime. Turn off all the tablets and smart phones. I recommend that this time be dedicated to bathing and reading. Check out these book from Amazon.com: How to Get Your Teacher Ready By Jean Reagan, First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg, The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer by Davide Cali.

2- Waking up early is just as important. For younger children it probably isn’t so much of a problem. Again the emphasis here is on routine. For older kids (moms and dads too) who enjoy sleeping in try, setting an earlier alarm giving enough time to get ready without the stress. Put two alarms on if you need to. If setting two alarms or more won’t even do it, you can give “Clocky” a try. It’s an alarm clock that rolls away from you when it goes off, forcing you to get out of bed to turn it off. Just like your bedtime routine, you will need to practice way before school begins. Getting adjusted to an earlier wake up will allow you the flexibility to handle something unexpected. Reading to your child is a great bonding time and the bookscan spark up some great discussions.

3- Preparing the night before will save you time and things will go smoother when everything is organized. This means everything from checking homework, preparing lunches and backpacks, and laying out the next day’s outfit. For some busy parents this can be a lot to handle at the end of a tired day but here are some more helpful tips.

4- Batch cooking for breakfast and lunch will help with the morning rush. Mealtimes with kids can be hectic and, who honestly likes making lunches? Big batch recipes are great because they’re made to help it all become quick and easy. For example baking several dozen breakfast muffins or pancakes that can easily be frozen and then warmed up; or how about breakfast sandwiches or frozen fruits for a quick smoothie? The ideas are endless and you can have your children help too. Give your kids some say. They will be more likely to eat it all up, especially in the mornings when kids aren’t always that hungry and you’re pressed for time. Why not have pre-made grab and go baggies in the fridge and pantry with proportioned lunch snacks like trail
mix, crackers, raisins, veggies and fruits. You can even prepare some snacks for when they get
home after school. No-bake protein balls are a perfect little snack. You will surely not regret stocking up on Ziploc baggies.

5- Create a designated spot in the home for your child’s school gear. This spot will be defined as a pick up and drop off spot for your child’s backpack. This is crucial to a smooth exit packed up before they go to bed. This can be part of their nighttime routine. This should include reviewing any homework, signed forms, library books, extracurricular/sports bags etc. This pick up/drop off area. You may also want to consider creating a special homework space where you can place the backpacks and a family calendar. No one really likes doing homework but having a special space might lessen the stress. With children in school there is a constant flow of papers. It is best to have a specific area for them all. If the kitchen fridge works best for your family then remind everyone and stick to it. Make sure it is works great near your entrance especially with the use of jackets, shoes and accessories likes hats, gloves and scarves in the
winter months.

6- Pick out clothes for the entire week. This can be done on the weekend and your child can take part in the selection process. Make sure to look at the weather for the week. In Montreal we all know that we might have to double check each night to make sure what was chosen is still appropriate with our variable weather. A great tip is to put each days outfit on a hanger or better yet plastic storage drawers or a hanging closet organizer with at least five slots that can be labeled with the days of the week. Check out this daily activity organizer – 6 shelf hanging closet from amazon.com

7- Don’t stress the supplies. Shopping for school supplies is probably one of the most frustrating tasks for parents. It can get crazy with crowds of people around the boxes of markers and shelves of colored folders and your child begging for the trendiest lunchbox. Not to mention the insane amount of money parents spend each year especially when you include that expensive
calculator- you all know the one! There’s no shortage of fun and adorable school supplies in stores but keep in mind what your child actually needs and will get use out of. For example some backpacks are super cute and come it all sorts of shapes and sizes. It would be pointless if you bought one that can’t hold your child’s folders and lunch box. Most schools supply a list which parents regard as the Holy Grail. Just remember to shop the list and only the list. There’s no need to overbuy. If your child runs out throughout the school year you can always pick up that item again later. If there is an item on the list you are not sure about or don’t agree with, consider reaching out to the teacher and having a conversation about it. If it is something that is necessary and will get used to educate your child, the teacher should be able to explain how.

8- Listen to your child. As parents, you know your child best and how to deal with them and their feelings. Get ready for back to school emotions no matter the age, whether it’s your child’s first experience or not. Be on the lookout for loss of sleep, tears, outbursts, and other signs of anxiety. Don’t panic- it’s totally normal. We’ve all had those feelings. Remember it’s a time of transition even if they’ve been to school before. Simply be there to listen to your kid’s concerns and even once school starts continue to listen each day to their daily events and concerns to help ease anxiety. If you can find out what is making them nervous perhaps a new teacher, class, or friends then you can help them through it. Let your child come up with their own solutions. For younger children and those having difficulty coming up with a solution you can role-play certain situations or discuss strategies they can use. Talk about previous successes with similar situations. For children who have been in school already remind them about other years and how they got through it. Reassure them that they have faced fears in the past and that they have all the tools they need to succeed. Don’t be shy to reach out to the teacher if need be. Teachers usually find this information helpful and if the child knows their parent has contacted the teacher it may reduce some anxiety feeling like everyone has their back.

9- Teach kindness and positivity. Learning starts at home. If there is one thing that we want children to acquire as they grow, its kindness. Back to school is a great time to have a conversation with your child about what it means to be kind. One of the kindest things is sticking up for someone else. You might want to discuss bullying and how being kind to someone who is different is a brave thing. Being brave is also making a new friend. Have daily conversations with your child. Do away with the “How was your day?” and opt for questions that ask them about an act of kindness they did or experienced. Praise your kid whenever they share something and are kind to others. Praise them often and it will only reinforce their kind behaviour. As parents, we must model kindness and good manners all the time. You can do so by kindly thanking the teachers for their work with a back to school gift. Teaching through example is the most powerful method of all. In that case positivity is crucial in parenting. Try staying away from negative words like “don’t” and “no”. Try saying “it’s okay to feel that way” rather than “don’t get mad”. You can’t use “yes” all the time as a parent but try not to say “no” automatically either. This is often done for convenience and not because something is unsafe. It’s all in the way we speak. Talk positively about your own experiences. For example you might not want to say you hate math too. That then gives you child the permission to hate it and possibly fail. Instead explain that you had to work hard to do well in math too. Don’t compare kids. It can hurt if you’re making limiting assumptions about your children’s potential. For more helpful advice, check out teacher and author, Kathleen Murray’s tips on disciplining with kindness and empathy in her book and website titled Teaching Kindness First.

10- Enjoy every moment. Watching your child growing up is a delightful blessing. Revel in it. While it can be a scary for many parents, it is important to be present and have joy in our children’s lives. Snap those first day photos mom and dad and celebrate the new school year as a family. School is important but doesn’t have to be stressful. Don’t forget to keep having fun as a family. Reading together, eating together, and playing together which will keep you connected and happy all year long.

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