The beginning of school brings a mixture of feelings. Many parents look forward to the structure of the school year and the greater ease of childcare. Most children are excited but also sorry to see summer end. Some parents are concerned about the nuts and bolts of getting a schedule on track, and some children express anxiety about the new year.
An old adage states, “Well begun is half done.” This can certainly be said about the start of school. The child who begins the school year successfully has a greater opportunity for yearlong success than the one who begins with struggles.
In this article we’ll discuss three measures to take so that the beginning days of school are easier and more successful for everyone. It may feel premature to take these steps before school actually begins. When families do, school days flow more easily.
Preparation sets the tone for the transition from busyness to bedtime. The body and mind begin to wind down so that sleep comes easily. Children anticipate a bedtime ritual, and remind you if you leave out any aspect. Here’s one that works well in many families: brush teeth, bathe, lay out clothes for the following day, story and or special time, lights out.
Some families find it easier to do baths before dinner. If this is the case, create quiet time following dinner and before the rest of the bedtime ritual. Too much stimulation defeats the purpose of quieting the mind and body.
Whether you have young children or teenagers, choosing school clothes the night before saves early morning hassles. With very young children, offer a choice between two items. Make sure either choice is acceptable to you. That way the child feels empowered and power struggles aren’t created because you don’t like the choice.
Special time means providing 10 or 15 minutes of individual time to each child before bed. It might include or be in addition to a story. Special time becomes important to both of you, and even older children want it. My two daughters wanted special time until they left for college. It was a time of individual connecting. We still talk about some of the things they chose to do with their time.
When instituting special time as part of the bedtime ritual, make sure you give only as much time as feels good to you. Better to do 10 minutes of quality time than 30 minutes feeling like it’s impinging on other things you need to do.
Often children go to bed later during summer than they do during the school year. Begin the school year bedtime a full week before school starts. The body requires a time of adaptation. Once a pattern is established, the body responds. If your child goes to bed at 8:00, it won’t be long before around 8:00 she’ll begin yawning and settling down. Of course, this only happens if the bedtime is consistently kept.
Starting the school year bedtime will likely cause complaints. Children will say, “I just can’t go to sleep.” Probably that’s true. They aren’t used to going to bed that early. Tell them to lie there quietly. Offer things to think about. Keep the lights out and tell them they must stay in bed. The first few nights can be difficult. Just weather it out. Effective parenting means doing what you know is best even when your children disagree. You will all find the beginning weeks of school easier when the bedtime pattern is already in place.
Begin the school year wake-up time when the school year bedtime is started. This is not easy and will be sure to elicit complaints! Once again though, it takes the body time to adapt. This time to a new morning schedule. If you begin the pattern a week before school starts, children will have an easier time waking on the first day of school.
Just like a nighttime ritual helps with creating peaceful sleep, a morning ritual helps everyone get out the door to school and work with few hassles. Keep it simple: rise, dress, eat breakfast, brush teeth, grab backpack, leave.
Most schools have a breakfast program. If you need to get to work early, that is a good alternative to eating at home. I know of parents who have the children eat dry cereal or an energy bar in the car on the way to school. This may be efficient but is not effective parenting nor is it healthy for the children. Allow enough time in the morning for a sit down breakfast. It doesn’t have to require lots of preparation. A healthy cereal with milk, a piece of fruit and milk or water is sufficient. If you have time to prepare hot breakfast, all the better. In many families this isn’t practical. Sitting to eat is far healthier than eating on the run. Give the gift to you and the children.
The start of school can be a time of pleasure for the whole family if time has been given to preparation. Sometimes we fail to recognize the amount of stress we create by winging life from one situation to the next. Taking time to enjoy a bedtime ritual and creating a structure for early mornings provides the opportunity for healthier, happier families.