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Wait, what? It's already time for school to start? It seems like just yesterday that kids were doing the happy dance as they got off the bus and headed home for summer break.

Are you ready to kick off the school year with less stress and as little drama as possible? Here are eight reminders to help parents set the stage for a great year:

1. It's OK to say no when commitments get too demanding. Many child experts warn parents about the stress children experience when they are involved in too many activities.

Ask yourself, "Are we in control of our schedule, or does it control us?"

2. Saying no can be for you, too. 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 more drama.

Ask yourself, "Will my family benefit more from this activity or from a less-stressed parent?"

3. Routines and structure at home will help everyone. Having consistency at home is best for children and parents alike. When you set a bedtime, morning and getting-home routine, you'll actually decrease stress for children (and adults) because they know what to expect.

Ask your family, "What's one routine we can start that will help everyone after getting home from school?"

4. Intentional evenings create smooth mornings. Things like choosing an outfit, packing lunches, getting backpacks ready with completed homework inside and signing papers before bedtime can make the morning better. Anything you (and your kids) can do the night before to make the morning less hectic is a serious plus!

Ask your family, "What's one thing we can all be responsible for every evening to help our mornings go better?"

5. Let your children do what they are capable of doing for themselves. Start by giving each child a short list of responsibilities as their contribution to the family. You may be tempted to do things yourself because it's faster or easier, but it's good to develop the habit of delegating stuff you know they can handle.

When you're tempted to jump in and take over a task, tell yourself, "Giving room for independence will have a bigger impact on my child than if we're late."

6. You will always be one of your child's teachers. As a parent, you'll always be your child's first teacher — but the job isn't done just because they're in school! From homework help to life skills, try to be involved in your child's education.

Ask your child, "What is one subject you feel a little nervous about? Is there anything I can do to help support you in that subject?"

7. Technology is a tool. Technology is almost always a huge part of education, so setting screen limits and technology boundaries can be tricky. You can find helpful information as you seek to make decisions about this at ScreenStrong.com (formerly Families Managing Media).

Ask your child's teacher, "What role does technology play in the classroom? And what are the expectations for technology at home?"

8. Regular family meetings can help keep communication open. Set a weekly time for the family to all sit down together — even if it's only for 10 minutes. Talk about what's on deck in the coming week for everyone, and 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.

Ask your family, "What are two things you wish we talked about more often?"

Getting into the swing of things as the school year starts doesn't have to take till fall break. Make time for your family to connect and communicate — it's 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.

Mitchell is vice president of operations at family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email him at mitchell@firstthings.org.

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Mitchell Qualls
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