Getting back into the swing of things after a long summer break can be tough. Routines have often declined, and the summer’s breezy, laid-back approach has seemingly become the new norm for everyone in your house.
Yes, back-to-school is a time of year that is both exciting and anxiety-inducing for parents and their children alike. The truth is, it doesn’t have to be a time of stress if you plan. If anything, you may even be thankful for some structure again! The better news is that we’re here to provide some essential hints and tips to ensure everything runs smoothly once more.
Our back-to-school guide will cover everything from creating a successful routine and maintaining good sleep habits to how to keep your child fueled throughout the day. Without further ado, let’s get started.
How to Create a Back-to-School Routine
Having a routine in your day-to-day life is essential. It’s no surprise that the same is true for your kids. While some adults may find the same routine too predictable and even tiresome, children thrive when their lives follow some sort of structure.
A solid routine can help you get to school on time and track various activities. While keeping to a regular schedule is easier said than done, having even a basic plan can save you a lot of headaches (even if you deviate a bit). What’s more, when your child knows what to expect, she feels more safe and secure.
Below we’ve listed some tips on how to start building up that routine once more.
How to Get Out of the House in the Morning
- Prepare the night before: Don’t underestimate the power of preparing the night before. From packing lunches to making sure shoes, coats, and backpacks are all in the same spot, you can avoid some of the morning rush. At the end of a long day, it can be hard to motivate yourself to get ready for another day. But spending a few minutes doing so can mean the difference between feeling harried in the morning and actually getting to finish your coffee for once.
- Plan outfits ahead of time: Similar to preparing the night before, Sunday can be a great day to get ready for the week. Consider picking out five outfits for your child for the week on Sunday. Just make sure to check the weather beforehand so you know what you’re dealing with and can plan accordingly. Even better, encourage your kids to get involved in the process. What would they like to wear? This can make them feel part of the planning, take something off your plate, and may even be fun!
- Aim to be early: While it may sound silly (and even annoying), it’s also true: it can help to aim to arrive early. Plan to get to school ten minutes earlier than you need to. Doing so ensures that any unplanned moments, such as leaving late or heavy traffic, have been accounted for and won’t lead to too much added stress. There’s a good chance that leaving earlier will result in you making it to school just on time when everything else, like traffic, is factored in.
- Stock the car: Slept in and ignored the alarm? It happens. Fortunately, you’ve just about managed to make it to the car in decent time, but breakfast has been sacrificed to do so. Luckily, you stocked up the car with nutritious on-the-go breakfast options, like cereal and dried fruit or breakfast bars (shoot for the ones with fruit, seeds, nuts or whole grains as the first ingredient). Your children make it to school on time, and thankfully, are not going in on an empty stomach! Parenting win.
- Give everyone a job: Don’t be afraid of enlisting your kids’ help. Delegating tasks can empower them to keep track of their belongings and make them feel involved. It has the added bonus of helping everyone to get out of the house more quickly. Make sure that the work between children is shared equally to make it more rewarding. Perhaps even more crucial to this practice is that it encourages children to become responsible and contributing members of the family. Kids usually rise to the occasion and you may be surprised at how well they handle new responsibilities.
How to Get (and Stay) Organized
- Create a shared calendar: Creating a shared calendar can be vital to keeping track of everyone’s schedules throughout the week. Whether it’s a Google calendar, a whiteboard in the kitchen, or simply jotted down in a notepad, keep it in an accessible place. Creating a shared calendar is particularly important for older children who may, for example, want to borrow a car for an event. This is also true for children whose parents don’t live together. If you know what’s happening, you can stay on top of it all with much greater ease.
- Create zones in your home: After a long, tiring day of school, children will—understandably—often throw down their bags, take off their shoes, and will run off to another part of the house. This leaves you with a mess to clear up and little sense of structure. Creating zones in your home can be an essential part of the back-to-school routine. Create a zone that stores backpacks and shoes, for example, or a zone for after-school snacks (to save your couch from crumbs). These zones will help to keep things organized—and keep you sane—in the long term.
- Develop a weekly game plan: Developing a weekly game plan with the whole family can be a helpful habit. Older children, or those with lots of weekly activities, will especially benefit from a quick family check-in. This check-in keeps everyone on the same page in terms of who’s driving whom to which place and what clubs or activities are on the docket each week. Having a weekly game plan will limit confusion.
- Create a homework plan and space: Kids need a dedicated space to do their weekly homework so they can focus. Setting a dedicated time can also help them know what to expect each day. It can help to let children decide when and where they want to do homework, as long as they stick to it. It will give them some sense of control and (potentially) prevent arguments and too much prodding from you.
- Ask for help: There is no problem in asking your community of fellow parents for help to stay organized and in control throughout the week. Whether it’s a simple carpool or after-school care, don’t be afraid to talk with other parents. There’s a good chance you’ll make some friends along the way as well.
How to Ensure Good Sleep Habits
Ensuring your child has good sleep habits is essential for many reasons. Children thrive when they have a regular bedtime routine, and restful sleep helps with their development, learning, and emotional well-being. In fact, a child without good sleep habits can suffer from irritability, hypertension, difficulty concentrating, headaches, obesity, and depression.
The recommended hours of sleep for each age range are listed in the table below:
|Age||Hours of Sleep|
|Infants (4-12 months)||12 to 16 hours, including naps|
|Toddlers (1-2 years)||11 to 14 hours, including naps|
|Pre-schoolers (3-5 years)||10 to 13 hours, including naps|
|Grade-schoolers (6-12 years)||9 to 12 hours|
|Teens (13-18 years)||8 to 10 hours|
With that said, here are some tips that parents can use to ensure better sleep habits.
- Set standard bed and wake times: The summer is a little more lax when it comes to bed and wake times. But when school hits again and your child needs to get up at a certain time, a set routine can keep everything running smoothly and ensure your child gets the sleep he or she needs. Pick a bedtime by figuring out when your kids need to get up and work backwards, factoring in the number of hours of sleep they need. Feel free to use the numbers above as a guide. You should also think about how much time your child likely needs to get ready in the morning. Some kids need more time to wake up than others.
- Have a practice run: Sleep patterns can take some time to change into a comfortable routine. The best advice we can give is not to set a new schedule the night before your child goes back to school. They may be too excited or anxious to sleep well, and throwing a new routine into the mix will probably only complicate matters. Instead, try the new routine a week or two before school starts. This will encourage your child to get into the flow of things more efficiently when school does start again. It will also mean body clocks will be comfortably reset in time.
- Have a relaxing bedtime routine: Especially for smaller children, a relaxing bedtime routine is key. For example, this could include a bath, a book or two, followed by a lullaby to get them to sleep. Reading before bed is well-known to help produce a better night of sleep. If your child is experiencing some separation anxiety after heading back to school, this dedicated time with you will be extra comforting. For older children, reading is also a good option, but so is journaling. Thinking through the thoughts and feelings of the day can encourage restful sleep for your child.
- Limit caffeine intake: Just like adults, your child should avoid caffeine late in the afternoon and evening. This includes the following:
- Iced tea
- Soft drinks
- Energy drinks
- Any other obvious caffeine sources: tea, coffee for older children, chocolate
- Keep the room they sleep in comfortable: While it may sound obvious, your child’s room should be comfortable enough to sleep in at night. Make sure their space isn’t too hot, too bright and if they’re frightened by the dark, choose a night light that will keep the room dimly lit.
- Limit screen use: One of the biggest problems in our technological, “always-connected” age is the amount of time all of us spend looking at screens. This dilemma is no different for your children; looking at screens before bed impairs a child’s sleep and may negatively affect their quality-of-life overall.
A recent study from the University of Lincoln found that night-time screen use was associated with difficulty falling asleep, waking too early, and waking up late. Children who used screens at bedtime consistently scored lower on quality-of-life tests also.
To avoid this, children (and adults) should stop using screens at least an hour before bed. They also shouldn’t sleep with their devices near them. While it may be tough to do this in a world that promotes constant screen use, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. Enlist your kids in setting rules for their devices so they feel part of the process.
How to Fuel Your Child
While nutritious food is essential for all of us, it’s particularly crucial for a child’s health and development. The problem is that our busy schedules can make it understandably difficult to provide breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, let alone make sure they’re (relatively) healthy.
We’ve listed some hints and tips below to help make everything run a little bit smoother when it comes to fueling your child.
How to Make it Healthy
- Start off strong: You should ensure your child gets a filling breakfast with good fat, carbohydrates, and protein. A good breakfast provides energy, essential nutrients—such as folate, iron, and fiber—and assists your child in maintaining a healthy weight. Other benefits are an increase in concentration and alertness, happier moods, and substantial improvements in mental performance. It would be fair to say: eating a good breakfast is vital. While it would be ideal to ensure your child’s breakfast happens at the table, it isn’t always possible in day-to-day life. Below, we’ve listed some ideas for both on-the-go and at-the-table breakfast options:
|At the Table||On the Go|
|Cold cereal and milk||Breakfast bars|
|English muffin with cheese||Dried fruit|
|Yogurt with fruit or nuts||Fresh fruit|
|Eggs and toast||Dry cereal|
|Oatmeal and banana|
- Pack in nutrients: It’s not always easy to make it happen, but packing your child’s lunch gives you direct control over what they’re eating throughout the day. Think about including a variety of foods, including protein, carbohydrates, fruits, and veggies. Top that off by adding something special for them, such as dried fruit, chocolate chips or a cookie.
- Take advantage of services: It never hurts to check if your child qualifies for free or reduced lunches and breakfasts. Every little helps when it comes to getting the right nutrients. Just be sure to fill out the necessary forms before the start of school, so you don’t have to do everything at the last minute. As with most things, planning is everything.
How to Get it All on the Table
- Try meal planning: Planning meals for the week ahead, starting on Sunday, is a good idea to ensure your child gets the right nutrients and you have less to think about when the chaos of the week sets in. Treating it like a system and making dishes ahead of time is an excellent way to stay on top of things (think casseroles that you can pop in the oven the day of or crock pot meals). Meal planning also allows you to add some variety, so you don’t find yourself stuck with mac and cheese every night (we’ve all been there).
- Make the freezer your friend: Making big batches of food and freezing them is a great idea that saves you time and stress. Think about freezing soups, breakfast muffins, smoothies, marinated chicken, and herbed meatballs.
- Aim for leftovers: When you’re making your meals, aim to double your recipe, so you don’t have to cook every single night. You can also send leftovers in lunches, adding new side dishes for variety. This method can help to make your food go further and also save you money.
- Cut up fresh fruits and veggies: While it can be tempting to throw in the towel when it comes to fruits and vegetables, you should stay determined! A weekend activity that can involve the whole family is to cut up fresh fruits and veggies. It’s an easy and breezy way to help everyone reach for healthier snacks and lunches during the week. Children, especially, find the beautiful shapes and colors of fruits and veggies fun to interact with; the key is to focus on the visual aspect and encourage samping along the way.
How to Have Less Anxiety and More Fun
While starting the new school year can be fun, kids can also find it to be a scary time. Regardless of whether it’s their first year at school or the new grade, going back after a carefree summer can be overwhelming, and it can be a stressful time for parents, too.
We’ve included some tips below that will help your child focus on the fun of school while helping to lessen their anxiety, plus advice on how you can take care of yourself as well.
How to Help Your Child
- Ease first day anxieties: Many children get nervous about going back to school for a variety of different reasons. Here are some ways of helping them cope with their worries*:
- Reassure your child that school is a fun and safe place. Mention meeting new friends and fun activities for them at school.
- Make a checklist of things they need to do beforehand. They can check them off as they prepare for the first day.
- Role-play with your child, perhaps working through a specific scenario he worries about.
- Listen to them and reassure: “You may be nervous about school, and that’s fine. I’m always here to help.”
- Set up playdates before school starts with other children in the same class.
- As much as you can, stay calm and collected yourself when back-to-school time approaches. Children can feed off our anxiety more than we think.
*Please be aware that if your child’s anxiety seems like more than first-day jitters, it’s always worth talking to his doctor.
- Keep an eye out for bullying: Develop a habit of talking through your child’s days with her. Not only will this deepen your relationship, it can also help you to keep an eye out for potential bullying, whether your child is on the receiving or giving end (or both).
- Schedule playdates: Inviting new friends over can help your child get to know people in his class before school even starts. He might develop long-term friendships as a result, but at the very least, it can ease back-to-school jitters if he has some familiar faces in his classroom. It can also make back-to-school feel like a collective activity rather than a singular, scary one.
How to Help Yourself
- Reach out to the teacher: One way of calming your own nerves is to introduce yourself to your child’s teacher, ideally before school starts. It’ll help develop open communication between you and the teacher and view him or her as an ally. As the school year progresses, it will feel less awkward to reach out and see how your child is doing.
- Get involved: While we all have too much on our plates, it’s worth setting some time aside to get involved in your kid’s school. Volunteering at school can help build community and can keep you connected with your child’s schooling throughout the year.
- Make friends: It’s fair to say that having other parent friends is fundamental. They can be someone to share problems with, and can also make the journey feel more like a community effort. Never be afraid to reach out to others—they’re most likely be in the same position you are and will be happy you did so!
For more resources this back-to-school season, check out more of our comprehensive and independent guide below: