Well it’s that time of the parenting year when many of us start overseeing the transition back to school. Whether this is a purely joyful time for you or a time of ambivalence, here are eight tips to help.
Tip #1: Start transitioning your child’s sleep routine to approximate the school day. Many kids develop a vampire sleep schedule during the summer, especially teenagers. Getting your kid onto a sleep schedule that will approximate the school year, a week or two in advance, will ease everyone’s transition. (For guidelines on how much sleep your child needs, click here.)
Tip #2: Set as a goal an hour a day of sweating and breathing hard for your progeny. It can be less stressful to begin this widely recommended behavior now than once the craziness of the school year kicks in. (Hint: it’s a lot easier to establish routine physical activity if it’s fun and part of scheduled and structure commitments.)
Tip #3: I bet you see this next one coming: establish a balanced diet to give your child a wonderful gift. It is very easy to get free online help. (As a child psychologist, I wonder how many mental health problems in youth would go away if all kids got enough sleep, got a reasonable amount of physical activity and ate a balanced diet.)
Tip #4: Plan a fun activity for the family a week or two into the school year. This gives everyone something to look forward to, which can ease the transition back to school.
Tip #5: If your child has a history of struggles with his or her academics, establish a minimum amount of time to be spent on homework each school night. An evidence-based guideline is 10 minutes per grade (e.g., a 5th grader would spend 50 minutes). (If the amount of time your child needs to spend on homework each night far exceeds this 10-minute guideline, I would initiate a discussion with the teacher(s) or a good child psychologist regarding what might be going on.)
Tip #6: Discuss with your child the amount of extracurricular activities that you find to be adaptive. Having no extracurricular involvements can hamper opportunities for advancing important developmental outcomes. However, too much extracurricular activity can compromise academics or wellness. As is the case across parenting, the middle ground is usually in order.
Tip #7: Avoid stressing your finances needlessly with back-to-school expenses. There can be a conscious or unconscious pressure to doll our kids up with expensive new clothes and bountiful office supplies when such isn’t needed. If you have the money and inclination, go for it. But, I would try to avoid creating burdens on myself that will later tax my ability to parent with intention.
Tip #8: Don’t beat yourself up for unrealized summer dreams. In the spring many of we parents imagine spending the summer frolicking through fields of meaning and joy with our children. Of course, this never happens with the same breath and depth as we imagined in the spring (i.e., another version of the Clark Griswold syndrome). Try instead to give yourself credit for your efforts and what went well.
Good luck my parent colleague!