Wait, what? It's already time for school to start? How did this happen when it seems like just yesterday kids were doing the happy dance as they got off the bus and headed home for summer break?
While most parents love the more relaxed schedule during the summer months, plenty of parents will be doing their own happy dance as their children head off to school and everybody settles into a routine.
In an effort to kick off the school year with less stress and as little drama as possible, there are some things parents can do ahead of time to set the stage.
» Straight out of the gates, decide what your family can handle when it comes to extracurricular activities. Many child experts warn parents about the stress children experience when they are involved in too many activities, which ultimately leads to meltdowns while trying to finish homework and handle later bedtimes.
» Know what you as a parent can handle. On top of children being stressed, parents really have to consider their own bandwidth when it comes to school, work and additional commitments. A stressed-out, tired parent who is always at the end of their rope typically leads to lots of drama. Can we agree that parental meltdowns just aren't pretty? Knowing what you can handle sets the stage for what can actually be on the table at this time and what is just not an option.
» Establish routines that provide consistency and structure at home. It's best for children and parents alike. Having a consistent bedtime, wake-up time, morning and nighttime routine actually decreases stress for children (and adults) because they know what to expect. Just because the kids complain about things doesn't mean it isn't good for them.
» Include prep for the next day into your evening routine. Things like choosing an outfit, packing lunches, getting backpacks ready with completed homework inside and signing papers before going to bed can make the morning better. Anything you can do the night before to make the morning less hectic is a serious plus!
» Let your children do what they are capable of doing for themselves. If this is new for you, one way to get the ball rolling is to tell your children that the beginning of each school year is significant. They are capable of handling more responsibility as they get older, so give each child a short list of things they are responsible for making sure gets done as their contribution to the family. You may be tempted to jump in and do things yourself because it is faster or easier, but unless you want your child dependent on you later in life, it's really good to develop the habit of delegating things you know they can handle.
» Establish a homework station that is an organized study space with all of the materials needed to do homework.
» Think about technology and how you want your family to use it during the school year. You can find helpful information as you seek to make decisions about this at Families Managing Media.
» Schedule a 15 to 30-minute opportunity once a week for everyone to come together and compare calendars. A great time to pull everything together is during a family meeting on Sunday evening. Talk about what's on deck in the coming week for everyone, see if anybody is responsible for taking food or materials to school, plan meal prep for the week, or discuss anything important for everybody to know.
Most people don't do well with surprises that throw them off their game. Making time for your family to connect and communicate is one of the most effective ways to decrease stress and drama. Here's to a stress-free start to the school year for your family!
Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at email@example.com.