5 Tips for Helping Your Child (Of Any Age) Prepare for Back to School
The time of year is here! School supplies are in full demand and there are already pumpkin products on the shelves. Back to school is almost upon us. If you start school on September 4th, you have just a few days left of summer! This time of year can be hectic for parents: the preparation, the plans, the panic. Back to school transitions can be tough, so use these 5 tips to help you prepare for a smooth transition for you and your child.
1. Ask your student how they are feeling about back to school, and really listen to what they have to say.
It's easy to focus on ourselves as parents as we prepare for back to school: making sure all the supplies are bought, the lunches are packed, the schedules are juggled. Just as it is a source of stress for parents, back to school is a source of stress for children and not just because they are going to miss their carefree summer routine. Many students have anxieties related to school pressures: academically, socially, personally. Maybe they are worried about what their schedule will be like and how they will finish their homework with soccer games, too. Maybe they aren't sure how this year will compare to last: better, worse, the same. Likely, your child has thought about back to school more than you have given them credit for. Likely, your child has feelings about the transition coming up, just as you do. Likely, they would talk to you about it, but you have to be willing to listen. Set aside some time to really talk with them about their feelings. Ask them and then listen. Try not advise but rather empathize. Hear them. Ask questions to understand but refrain from bringing up your own agenda. Maybe even ask them if they have a goal or want to set a goal for themselves for the year. This is a chance for connection, for you to be on the same page as your child before they hectic year begins, so take it. It only takes a few minutes!
2. Create a morning and evening routine for school ...and give it a test run this weekend!
Ah, summer. The time where all routines go out the window. Bedtimes are later, wake up times, too. Travel plans and fun summer days lead to great memories and horrible sleep schedules. Take the time sometime early in the weekend to sit down (with your child, if old enough) and try to establish a morning and evening routine for school time. Make sure to set an age appropriate time for your child to be in bed and to wake up at each morning and try to practice it now. Along with sleep times and extracurriculars, work in time for breakfast and dinner, time for homework and free time, time for family time. In your evening routine, set aside some time for calming activities like reading, listening to soft music or decompressing with a parent. If you have an older child, like a teen or young adult, it is a little more difficult to enforce the bed time but have a technology off time, and encourage them to learn and understand why it benefits them. The more established their habits that lead to success are now, the easier it will be to maintain them when the school year begins.
3. Use tools like visuals, checklists and apps.
The busier the schedule gets, the easier it is to forget something like the correct folder for school, that it is class party day or what exactly that homework from English was that your child just knew they were going to remember. Tools like visuals can be placed around the house to help your child remember the parts of his after school routine, or to help her remember to do her homework first before turning on the TV. Checklists are great for cubbies, lockers, and by the door in the morning to help remember the backpack, the gym shoes and the violin. For older children, teens, and even parents, apps are amazing. We are all so connected to technology, let's use it to help improve our lives. I really like this list from ADDitude Magazine of a few different apps you can use to help with remembering homework. Personally, I use a combination of Google Calendars, iCal, Reminders, Wunderlist and Spark to help manage schedules, responsibilities, tasks and even the grocery and Target lists. In our house we also use a visual whiteboard calendar, morning routine and bedtime routine checklists, and we are working on getting our launch pad (see next tip) to be more consistent to help with success for back to school.
4. Create (and use) a LAUNCH PAD to help your child (and you) have an easier time getting out of the door each morning.
Let me paint you a likely familiar picture: 7:55am and you were supposed to leave 5 minutes ago. You've rushed your little around to get ready after a late start but just as you are about to walk out the door you remember the permission slip is due for her field trip. You know you had it on the coffee table a few days ago, you were just going to sign it and put it right back in the back to school folder so you wouldn't forget it. But you did, so now it's 7 minutes past when you were supposed to leave and it's not on the coffee table. The rushing is making it even more difficult to think and then out of the corner of your eye you see the paper. You grab it, rush out the door, and somehow still manage to drop her off at school, just barely on time. Okay, maybe that isn't exactly how these things go at your house, but we've all been there before: rushing around at the last minute looking for that one thing you know you had but now you don't or being forced to wait while your older child does the same. This leads to rushing, irritability and sometimes downright panic.
Let me introduce you to the launch pad. If used correctly, the launch pad will save you from your frantic searches. Let me repeat: if used correctly. The launch pad is a specific place where everything that you need (backpack, keys, books, shoes, homework, projects, lunch, etc.) all go so that you can just grab and go in the morning without having to worry about what you are forgetting. If you have a table, bench or even a hook or two, a launch pad is yours to create. Once you create your launch pad, use it every day. All items go there immediately upon getting home, and when they are taken away to be used (i.e., to do homework), they are put back immediately following. This habit may be difficult to get into at first, as all habits are, but once you feel the benefits, and you teach the benefits to your child by example, you will have less stress each morning, which really sets the tone for an even less stressful entire day!
5. Consistently follow up with your child on all the preparations for the first few weeks. And don't stop completely just because you think they have gotten the hang of it.
As you are preparing for school by following the steps above, or using other techniques you choose to use with them, remember that your child needs consistent follow up to succeed. It doesn't matter your child's age, they need (and want - even though they may never say it out loud) you to check up on what they are doing and to follow up with them to help them succeed. This does not mean be the helicopter parent! Allow your child the freedom that they have earned to be responsible for their own tasks, however, check in with them and see how things are going. Refer back to step one, listen to what they are saying, really hear them and ask how you can help. Tweak routines if needed. Be flexible. Be encouraging!
We wish you a safe and happy Labor Day weekend! If after trying these five steps, your child or teen continues to struggle with managing school organization or school stress, reach out! A few sessions focused on executive functioning or coping skills could put them in a successful, focused space for the school year.