Back to School Parenting Guide: Creating school ready habits

How to help your child create healthy routines for back to school and beyond

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In the blink of an eye, summer is over, which means one thing for certain – it’s back to school time! For kids and parents alike, back to school can be a stressful time. From the hectic mornings getting ready for school on time, to readjusting to hours of homework and extracurricular activities after school, there are no shortage of changes that come with going back to school for everyone in the family. With a few intentional steps, you can be prepared for the start of school with school-ready habits.

Without enough sleep, children can struggle with attention, memory, and problem-solving. Having healthy sleep habits sets a child up for academic success and a smoother transition back to school. Healthy sleep habits start with a bedtime routine.

So let’s go over some tips for creating a bedtime routine.

1. Reducing Artificial Light Before Bed

Before bedtime, reduce artificial light. When it gets dark, our pineal gland secretes the hormone melatonin, which tells your body to get tired and go to sleep. By reducing artificial light by dimming lights before bedtime, this helps signal to our bodies that it’s time to sleep. Likewise, cutting down on screen time before bed can help your child get a better night’s sleep. Research has established a connection between screen time before bed and increases in the amount of time it takes someone to fall asleep.

2. Bedtime routines that promote sleep

Before bedtime, help your child build routines that promote sleep as an alternative to screen time. Activities like listening to soothing music or reading a book together can help promote sleep. Likewise, soothing smells like lavender and having cozy textures and blankets can help signal to your child that it’s time for bed. 

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

Getting into a new sleep routine takes time. It’s best to adjust to this routine in advance of school, and not start the night before school! Begin adjusting your child’s bedtime routines in the weeks leading up to school if possible. This will give you time to figure out what works best for you and your child and ensure that on the night before the first day of school, the routine feels familiar!

4. Prepare for the morning the night before

Adjusting back to early mornings can be a challenge too. Set you and your child up for a smoother morning by doing as much preparation in the evening the night before. Choosing back to school clothes, packing their backpack, and choosing what you will have for breakfast can all be done the evening before.

While preparing for a smooth morning starts with the evening before, transitioning back to earlier mornings, especially for teens who may have a penchant for sleeping in!

Here are a few tips specifically for the morning time:

1. Adjust to waking up earlier in advance

To adjust to waking up earlier, start by making small daily changes to your child’s wakeup time. Set alarms 15 or 30 minutes earlier over a series of days leading up to the start of school. This way, by the time it’s the first day of school, your child will feel accustomed to getting up as early as needed and you can avoid the resistance that comes when the adjustment is made too abruptly.

2. Have a morning checklist

Having a morning checklist can help you make sure you and your child don’t forget any tasks in the flurry of the first day of school. Tasks like brushing teeth and packing lunch can all be a part of the morning checklist. And indicating who will be “in charge” of the task every AM will help build your child’s sense of responsibility and self-worth when they complete a task.

3. Practice, practice, practice

If your first day of school routine involves new changes or unknowns that could be anxiety inducing for you or your child, practice in advance to reduce uncertainty and fear. Driving to a new school? Being picked up at a bus stop for the first time? Practice those parts of your morning routine before the first day so that it feels familiar to both you and your child alike.

Here are some other general tips to ease this
transitional phase:

1. Give a “heads up”

Children do better with knowing what’s ahead and they are not as aware of time passing as we are as adults. Even simple prompts, such as providing a countdown in 5-minute increments to the expected task or activity, can help kids make a mental shift to prepare for what’s next. Some kids may do better with shorter interval notices, such as 1 minute before the start of their next activity. Removing any surprises can be useful, not just as it relates to back to school, but as a means to eliminate resistance and conflict when adhering to a schedule as a family.

2. Get Organised

Knowing where to find things is important. Most parents can recall the last time their child asked where fill-in-the-blank is. Back to school is a great time to start new routines and or continue existing ones. If your child needs help finding things often, such as a pencil or their books, try organizing a space for them in the home that has boxes or other dedicated spaces for items such as paper, pencils, books, their backpack, etc. Doing this together with your child will also increase the chances that they’ll store where things are into long-term memory. Keeping tidy, and setting aside 5 minutes at the end of each week to maintain this tidiness and organization is not only a great skill to practice but to model for your child so they can learn from and organize on their own as well. This 5 minute tidying on a weekly basis, built in as a habit, can help children get into the habit of tidying and organizing in other areas of their lives. This can help relieve the burden of answering questions about where items are on a repeated basis, or spending unnecessary time looking for items.

3. Affirm Emotions

It’s important to explore how your kid(s) feel about the upcoming school year. Affirm and normalize their emotions, no matter what they are, to help them feel less alone, less self-judgment, and more acceptance of their emotional experience. Instead of trying to change their “negative” emotions into “positive” ones, To best help your kid(s), remind them that it’s not wrong (rather, to be expected) to feel emotions that are unwanted or uncomfortable leading up to school. And instead of pushing those feelings away, your child can realize they’re safety and OK to feel, and these feelings will pass once they get familiar with their new routine.

4. Acknowledge Effort

The more aware you are of what your kid(s) need from you to listen or follow through, the more likely they will rise to your expectations naturally when you give them what they need (i.e., reminders & praise). Acknowledge their effort and give praise to reinforce wanted behaviors, such as “I’m so proud of how hard you tried to be on time for school today!” Or for older kids, you could say, “You were right on time today and seemed less stressed. What do you think helped?” These exchanges will help your child associate responsibility with feeling good, while building their sense of self-worth.

So while the back-to-school season can seem overwhelming, these small practices can help everyone adjust smoothly. By incorporating a bedtime routine, a morning routine, and our general tips, your family can tackle this season with confidence! It’ll be summer again before you know it.

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