I have always loved fall. The cooling weather, the leaves turning colors, new clothing and the fresh start that a new season and school year brings.
Since my kids are grown and there is no backpack photo to share, I am providing a little unsolicited life advice for parents on how to manage school routines with kids. Here are eight points to help you navigate the new school year.
- Celebrate each day. Beginning a new school year is a big deal and gets so much attention, as it should. But I also encourage you to celebrate every day. Talk to your children about what was amazing and what was difficult about each day. Help them learn to recognize the good, even in the midst of challenge. This habit will serve them their entire life.
- Don’t compare yourself. A friend of mine shared recently that she was a loser because she didn’t have the requisite photo of her children on the morning of the first day of school. Social media provides a snapshot of one micro-moment of others. Did you ever consider that none of those photos show the parent? Who knows, they may be haggard and cranky monster on the other end with a meme-worthy morning of pure chaos to capture that photo. Remember, you only get to see one side of the lens, so be gentle to yourself. Each of us is uniquely created and we love and nurture in our own way. It does not require a cute little chalkboard sign. But if you are that parent who stages a photo shoot each year – you are awesome and the photos are adorable. No shame – just be you – either way.
- Eat a meal together. I’m not kidding. There is a lot of research that suggests sitting as a family unit together for a meal, is so important to health – emotionally, mentally and physically. I didn’t do everything right by a long stretch, but one thing I can say I did, was make sure we ate dinner together most nights. Was it frozen pizza sometimes? Yes. The content of the food itself was not the point, sitting together provided not only a structure to our lives, it was our opportunity to talk and just land in the same place together. Now don’t get all spun up about time. Sometimes we sat for just 15 minutes, but that time was ours and it was important as a parent to listen and keep tabs on our how our kids were doing. This time was also our chance to check in on any homework assignments or permission slips needed.
- Prepare the night before. Ok, stop the eye rolling. Before you clean up after dinner (and we still do this today), make up the lunches for tomorrow. Side benefit is that you only clean up the kitchen once. Then once that is complete, have the backpacks with homework, permission slips, instruments, gym clothes, etc. packed up and placed in the same spot every night. I never had the benefit of an Instagram worthy entry with cubbies and hooks, but we had one spot where everything went the night before. The mistake many parents make is doing this step for your children, which leads me to my next point.
- Involve the kids in the process. No where in the universe does it say the parent must do all the work. Nope. Not true. Nor should you. Even kindergarten students can help with some of the preparation for school and every student should be taught to take responsibility for their success. So, make them pack their backpack and put it near the door. Expect them to help pack lunch, get their permission slips signed and ensure they have everything they need for tomorrow. I can tell you how wrong I did this for so long, but once I shifted the balance of accountability, it changed me and my children for the better. Note for parents of high school students: this involves “waking up” for school too – especially when they are driving themselves. Don’t give them an excuse to blame you, they need to take responsibility and secretly, they like it. It did wonders when I began to expect them to get up on time to do the 10 minutes or 1 hour of primping they needed. This may be a big shift, but if they know what is expected, they can do it. (BTW: Ask me about the day the high school called to have me excuse my late child and I did not. Mean? Maybe. But, they were not late again.)
- Pick your battles. This one is tricky depending on your personality. But seriously, decide if a perfectly picked up room is the highest priority or not. This is especially true to older kids. We had only two rules – no food in the bedrooms and if it starts to smell, I will get involved. When I learned to just close the door and let them have their space, they began to self manage and got tired of the mess themselves. Parents, please don’t do all the pick up after your kids – it does not serve them well in life…trust me.
- Dealing with uniforms. Whether school uniforms or gym clothes, this point is important. When my kids were little and had a uniform, we couldn’t afford multiples of everything, which meant washing during the week. My kids knew which days I had to wash and when they got home, they put their uniforms in the basket so I could get them started right away. Remember, I worked full time, so this little habit served as a reminder to me too! Side note, if your uniform involves small items like a tie, keep that in their back pack to avoid the search in the a.m. Those are scars talking here….you’re welcome.
- Be flexible. We had a routine, which worked most of the time, but sometimes when life blew up, so did the routine. Be flexible and go with the flow. That might mean that you buy lunch that day or eat a granola bar in the car, or dress in the car….but adapting to life’s surprises is a critical life skill for all of you. If you are going to be late, what good is it to show up 3 minutes late and in a frazzle without the parts you need? Just own it. Take your time, get your selves in order and then deal with the 15 minutes or 20 minutes late…or, dare I say it?…a call out day to work through the situation. Life happens, give yourself a break and do what you must, but our ability to show our children flexibility is important. And spoiler alert: your grown kids will remember what choices you made and the priorities you placed on things, time, obligations.
I know you are all so excited for school to have begun and I can remember those days. I do hope you will enjoy the second, 12th and 200th day of school as well. These ideas aren’t brand new or rocket science, but even choosing just one will help your school year hum a little bit better. Best wishes to you and your homes this school year. Hope it’s the best year yet!