Transitioning from the unstructured, care-free days of summer to a daily schedule of school, after-school activities, and homework can be stressful and frustrating for both parents and children.
It doesn’t have to be.
The key to success is getting back into a routine before the school year starts. Ideally, you want to start two weeks ahead of time. If your children haven’t had a structured bedtime all summer, or have been going to bed much later than they do during the school year, start with one hour before your target “school night” bedtime, two weeks before school starts. Then, the week before school starts, move up to half an hour before you want them to go to bed on a school night for 3 days, and then at the “school night” bedtime for the last four nights before school starts. This way you aren’t going from a 10:00pm bedtime to an 8:00pm bedtime in one night, or over a weekend. That isn’t enough lead time for a child to adjust to a new schedule.
Similarly, you can’t expect your child to transition from waking up at whatever time their body feels like, to getting up at 6:00am in just a few days. If your child needs to get up at 6:00am to prepare for school, two weeks prior to the start, have them get up at 8:00am (if they are getting up later then that). Then, the week before school starts, have them get up at 7:00am for three days, and then 6:00am for four days. If they are already getting up fairly early, say, around 7:00am, then go ahead and spend a few weeks having them wake up at 6:00am. It will make the morning easier for everyone.
Much like routines at school help students feel settled and calm, routines at home can work the same way. There is a parent mentality that says, “My kids have to sit and learn and work all day, when they come home I just want them to be able to relax and have fun.” Well, yes and no. Of course your kids should relax and have fun when they come home. However, kids need structure at home just as much as they need it at school.
If your child knows that when they come home each day they are going to have a snack, be able to play for an hour, do homework, have dinner, have some screen time, shower/bathe, read for an hour, then go to bed, or some variation of that, (obviously the schedule would fit your child’s own needs and your lifestyle), it can benefit them in a few different ways. First, it can reduce end of the day anxiety at school. There is no “What’s going to happen when I get home” worry, because they already know what to expect. Second, it cuts down on some of that crabbiness that happens when kids first get home from school. Oftentimes it’s blamed on “letting off steam”, but quite often it’s due to the transition from the structure of school to the lack of structure at home. Finally, having a schedule at home allows kids to be more responsible for themselves and their time.
Some parents push for kids to do their homework right away when they get home from school. Then, once it’s finished, they can play/have video game time/go visit a friend, etc. I would highly recommend against this. Children spend long hours sitting in classrooms now, with very little opportunity to play or even be outside, as recess times are getting shortened to make sure test scores are being met. Let your child play and burn off the steam of the school day when they get home. They will be more successful when it comes time to sit and focus on their school work because of it.
Finally, put a morning routine in place. I talked about morning routines a little bit in this post, and I’ll talk more about planning ahead for the week, and the night before in my next post. However, kids can benefit from a morning routine in many of the same ways an adult can. Having a set routine also makes the morning run smoother and can make the day start on a positive note for everyone involved. Also, and I know not everyone shares my opinion, I’m a fan of keeping that routine even on the weekends. I believe that it helps create a routine sleep schedule, and cuts down on “Monday madness” at the start of the week.
Once your children are old enough, give them responsibility over different areas of their schedule: have them pick out their clothing the night before, have them help make their lunch, have them get their own snack (from an assortment of approved choices), show them how to set a timer for reading and video game use. All of these tips will not only help their day (and yours) run more smoothly, it will also start to build skills that they will need once they leave home and head out to college or the job world. Consider it an investment in their future.
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