Starting a new school year can be stressful for everyone. The parent is worried about expenses, schedules, work, food, and more. The children have their own worries about friends, teachers, classes, and grades. Younger children can worry about being alone while their siblings are at school or have similar challenges of schoolchildren at daycare. A few moments of preparation can change everything.
Opening communication lines is crucial. Perhaps the most important thing you can do with each child is spend just a few minutes each day talking to them one on one. This can be hard in our busy lives, especially if you have multiple children. Don’t forget to spend one on one time talking with your spouse, too. These moments are vital for your relationships. There are many people who plan a “date” every month with each member of their family, but it is important to touch bases on a daily basis. This can be as simple as tucking a child in or saying a prayer together before they go to bed.
One family goes on a daily walk, they say it’s great exercise and talk time. The way they get one on one moments is they have scavenger hunts. Assign each person something to find. While others are looking, one parent is watching the kids and the other walks beside a child and has a few moments of chat time. “It’s amazing how they look forward to those moments and save up something to tell just me.”
Another idea is to take one child with you when you run errands or go to the grocery store. Turn off the radio and the tablet and just talk. Remember, your goal as the adult is to listen. Don’t ask leading questions, don’t pass judgment, don’t try to solve everything, listen, agree, understand. You’ll learn a lot and be able to stop most problems while they are still little. Research from Harvard has shown that there is another benefit to this. Children who have conversations with adults have increased literacy, language growth, and verbal abilities. Talk to your kids and they turn out smarter! Gabrieli, the Grover Hermann Professor of Health Sciences and Technology at MIT reports that “It’s almost magical how parental conversation appears to influence the biological growth of the brain.”
As the start of school approaches, you have to head over to do registration anyway, take your child with you. Let them see where their school is, where you go in, maybe wander up and down the halls for a few minutes. If time is tight, simply drive by so they can see the school. One mother reports that “once my son had seen the playground at his school he knew it was okay, he would be happy there. He didn’t care about the inside.”
Let everyone know what is expected. Set up the house rules. These may include things like homework should be done before dinner or playtime. Computers are only to be used in the main part of the house. This is a good rule because then anyone can see your computer screen at any moment. That fact prevents a lot of problems from ever starting. If you have several children, they can help each other if they do homework together at the table. Are they allowed to have a snack when they get home from school? Try having a specific bin or box in the fridge or shelf in the closet with foods they are allowed to eat. Maybe a basket for each child so they don’t argue about who gets what.
Go over the school’s rules together. This makes it so no one is surprised. Think of all the stress you can avoid if you know ahead of time that the logo on a shirt is against school rules. Does the school require a parent’s note to return to school after missing a day? What is required to be excused for a dental visit? If you can’t pick up your child what needs to be done so that someone else can? Knowing these answers beforehand makes things go smoothly.
Prepare the day before. Some people like to do a test run, getting up on time, dressing and eating breakfast, and being in the car and ready to go. Others find that it is sufficient to lay out the next day’s clothes and have the backpack ready to go the night before. It is a good idea to plan an extra fifteen minutes to get ready on the first day. There’s always something that comes up.
Set up a family calendar! Put it in a central location (the fridge is often a good spot) and go over each upcoming week on Saturday or Sunday. As you learn of an activity or day off, mark it on the calendar (include all the needed information, time, place, and address). Maybe your kids are old enough to have phones with calendars on them. Just be certain everyone is on the same page! No one likes to be forgotten. Oh, and don’t overschedule, set limits so that you can still have fun time. You only need one or two extracurricular activities, more than that becomes a burden fast.
A lot of studies have been done on gratitude. The bottom line is to spend some time being grateful! Researchers at Berkeley have shown it improves your mental health, physical health, family and social bonds, and makes you more resilient. You can incorporate gratitude by simply taking a moment as a family to go around and say something each of you was grateful for that day. You can do this as you prepare to eat, before bed, while you’re driving in the car, or whenever is convenient for you.
Post-it notes are your best friends. As you prepare a box lunch put a kind note on a post-it and include it in the lunch. Maybe you don’t do lunches, put one in their backpack. Even a child who is too young to read understands a smiley face. (Don’t forget to tuck notes in places for your spouse to find.) You can put post-its on the bathroom mirror or bedroom doors. I once stopped to use the restroom in a gas station and found a post-it on the mirror that said, “You are so beautiful to me!” That has stayed with me for years and always brings a smile.
Use your post-its for positive affirmations. The web is filled with scientific articles on what wonders these little positive notes do. They change your whole world and all it takes is writing down a positive thought and repeating it several times throughout the day. Do it for yourself, do it for your children, do it for the world.
And just take a moment to breathe deep. You’ll thank yourself for that, too.