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Back to School Doesn’t Have to Mean “Back to Stress”

If you are a parent of a school-age child, the sounds of summer splashing, hooting and hollering are quieting down as students return to school this week and next. For many parents, there is welcome relief but also added pressure and stressors related to the new school year: children adjusting to new sleep routines, daily schedules, homework, activities, and all of the other changes associated with starting a new grade, or even a new school. The routines of summer, or lack thereof, are making way for change. Most people find comfort and a sense of security in routines. But more importantly for children, “routine is to a child what walls are to a house; it gives boundaries and dimensions to his life.” (Rudolf Dreikurs) If you’ve stepped foot into any school, you see how well teachers and administrators are able to garner cooperation of dozens of students using routines and schedules.

Easing the transition for both parents and children means establishing routine. Most parents find that morning, homework and bedtime routines are essential for reducing stress and creating more peace at home. For morning schedules, always leave some wiggle room; don’t schedule to the minute. It is inevitable most mornings that there will be some unplanned-for time-snatcher. In developing new routines, it is useful to consider your child’s temperament and as much as possible, to obtain his input. As with any of us, children are more likely to cooperate when they’ve been included in the process. Even older students, like those in middle and high school, will benefit from a discussion about the routines that will work best for them.

Ask questions such as “What do you need to do in the morning to get out the door?”, “Where would be a good place to do homework?”, “Do you want your after-school snack before or with homework?”. Following a day spent in the classroom and in a bus or car, allow time in the after-school routine for free play and physical activity, in particular. Careful consideration should be given to the timing of screen time. Many parents find it beneficial to wait until after homework is completed but also keep in mind the recommendation to shut it down 30 minutes before bedtime. Input about bedtime routines might include “what kind of winding down activity can we do at bedtime?” Suggestions include lying down and listening to music together, playing a sedentary game like chess or checkers, writing in a journal together, or the tried-and-true standby: reading a book together. A consistent bedtime is also important for children’s functioning, to allow them the 10 to 11 hours of sleep recommended. For children who’ve been enjoying late nights all summer, this transition may take some time. If your child hasn’t returned to school yet, start gradually rolling back the bedtime tonight.

To maintain consistency and help children cooperate with routines, a chart or other visual reminder can be useful and young children may be eager to help create or personalize it with pictures of themselves performing a task, making a list, creating order, etc.

I’m interested in hearing about your successful routines. Please share them in the comments section in the Transcript’s online version of this column or post your reply to my question on Facebook: Dawn Schatz Lcsw.

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