August 27, 2012
Eight Tips for Getting Your Kids Back to School
by Linda Anderson Krech and Gregg Krech
For many families the start of the school year has a more noticeable impact on day to day life than the start of the calendar year. This is certainly true in our family. As September rolls around, the daily routine of every member of our family, even our dog, changes. This year our youngest child starts middle school, so elementary school is now a part of our family history. We thought we’d share with you eight ideas we’re using to get off to a fresh start for the school year:
1. Sleep: A recent study of 3,120 Rhode Island teenagers found that 85% of the teens were cronically sleep-deprived and accumlated at least a 10-hour sleep deficit during the week. While adolescents need an average of 9 hours a night, 26% said they usually got less than 6.5 hours on school nights. Although it can be challenging to raise bedtime issues with our kids, sometimes that's what we need to do. Children can be in for a rude awakening when their bodies and brains make the adjustment from a lax summer routine to an early rising day. In fact, many kids face a 2-4 hour adjustment -- the equivalent of the jet lag that occurs when one flies from California to the East Coast. They may need our help to figure out a plan that will work. The same applies to wake-up time. Our daughters each have alarm clocks and are responsible for getting up on their own. If they miss the bus we drive them to school and they repay us in time for our inconvenience. As you transition to a new school year, consider giving your kids some added responsibilities. Once they get to college, they have to do it all on their own.
2. Organization: Try to create a good, solid daily routine for yourself, taking care of assorted tasks in the evening -- homework, teacher’s notes, backpacks, clothes, lunch money, etc. If your kids learn to get up with plenty of time to spare, you can minimize the chaotic morning rush. And in terms of the bigger picture, it can help to get a year-at-a-glance calendar so that everyone can get oriented to the bigger picture ahead. (We use Google calendar and find it immensely helpful).
3. Anxiety: Each child will go into the first day of school with a different sense of anticipation. For some, that anticipation is grounded in excitement. For others, . . .
it’s encapsulated in anxiety. Let your kids know that it’s normal to have a wide range of feelings when starting something new. Remind them that nobody really knows what’s going to happen on any given day, and that’s what makes life an adventure. Tell stories of your own school experience as a child, if you can share something that’s helpful. As they change grades, teachers and even schools, it's likely that these changes won't always go according to plan. Dealing with the turbulence of social and academic challenges is one of the ways we teach them to deal with the joys and sorrows of life.
4. Homework: Many teachers will start giving homework on the first day or two. This is a wonderful opportunity to teach your kids the habit of doing unpleasant tasks first. They get to experience the satisfaction of completing their work and freeing themselves to enjoy the rest of the day. This is a great lesson that will pay off for them in later years.
5. Don’t Get Seduced By Back-To-School Shopping: At this time of year, the media floods us with ads ranging from new fashions to electric pencil sharpeners. There’s a sense that if we don’t send our children to school with countless accessories and designer erasers we are guilty of parental neglect. In fact, this is a great opportunity to teach our kids about how advertising tries to influence us in ways that often reflect misguided values. Set an example by foregoing some of your own clothing money and donating it to a worthwhile charity or some special cause that your family believes in.
6. Parents Are Students Too: Parents can use the beginning of school to consider their own learning goals for the coming year. Is there something new you would like to learn to do? A foreign language? A musical instrument? Learning something new not only keeps our minds fresh but it sends a message that learning is a lifelong process, not just something we do in school. The question, "What did I learn today?" can be an interesting theme at dinner and allows the kids to get a peek at what their parents are learning while they're at school.
7. Family Meetings: The beginning of the school year is a great time to begin having family meetings. These gatherings provide a chance for everyone to share what’s on their mind – what concerns they may have, ideas, suggestions, gripes, questions. Depending on the age of the kids, you can try different ideas for structuring the meeting – using a “talking stick”, or having each person call on others to speak when discussing their own topic – or you can just speak without any special structure. Family meetings contribute to family cooperation, since everyone has a chance to be involved and invested in the decision making process.
8. Celebrate the End of Summer: The start of one thing is the end of another. Can you do something as a family to help celebrate a great summer? We used the last weekend before school to take an overnight trip to a beautiful area of Vermont, just a couple of hours away. Perhaps you can take a day trip somewhere or host a sleepover party or a dinner with other families. You might spend an evening making a photo album (hard copy or web-based) of your photos from the past summer. Find some way to create a ritual for reflecting on and expressing gratitude for the highlights of the summer season.
Each year, the beginning of school marks the passage of time. One day we’re waving goodbye as our child gets on the bus for kindergarten and pretty soon we’re waving goodbye as she drives off to college. This ritual only happens 12-16 times in our lifetime. It may seem like a laundry list of items on a checklist, but there is wisdom in seeing the whole process as a gift and taking conscious steps to make it a joyful time for the whole family.
Linda Anderson Krech, MSW is the author of Little Dreams Come True: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Parenting (ToDo Institute Books, 2005) and Gregg Krech is the author of Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-reflection (Stone Bridge Press, 2002). They both live and work at the ToDo Institute in Vermont, an educational center which teaches the principles of Japanese Psychology.