Depending on where you live and your local school calendar, back-to-school time may seem imminent or a few weeks off. Regardless, it’s a top-of-mind subject for many parents. Administrators are busy planning for the students’ return; kids are gobbling up the last bits of summer; and parents are getting ready to shift from summer to school routines.
A local behaviorist, Dr. Robin Allen, shared some excellent tips to urge parents to start planning now for back-to-school success. She said it can take up to two weeks to reset our sleep cycle, so now is a great time to start inching your way toward a Fall schedule. She also offers some fabulous tips on creating charts and checklists. As you know, if I was able to take only one item to a deserted island (beyond my family of course!), it would be a chart! Here are edited highlights from some tips Dr. Robin recently published:
1. Sleep schedule. Begin this week to get your child on a school wake up and bed time schedule. This will get his/her rhythms re-set for the coming months, which are critical for learning, expected behavior, and attention. If you shape the wake-up and bed times in the direction of what will be expected the first week of school, you and your child will have an easier transition.
2. Charts and checklists. Begin to use or think about using VISUAL CUES/CHARTS/CHECKLISTS for your child for the school year to provide structure, set expectations, decrease power struggles, and increase independence. By using visual cues, you decrease the constant verbal prompting you provide with your kids in the mornings. (Many children have the most difficult times in the mornings due to insufficient sleep, not being medicated yet, and just not being “morning people”).
3. Rewards pay. When appropriate, set up a reward system (with points, stars, checks) that targets your child’s issues. If they are motivated to change, they can modify behaviors and skills. I have observed many kids doing amazing things just to have access to their computers and video games! Yes, I would love them to change just because “it was the right thing to do” or “it is expected behavior,” but those notions do not seem to yield success as much as a Super Mario game or a Pokemon card or access to the computer or treats!
4. Night before. Have your kids do several things the day/night before such as: put homework away, pack the back pack, make/pack lunch, select clothing for the next day, make sure they have clothes/uniforms for phys. ed., clean glasses, etc. The more they do the night before, the less they have to do in the morning.
5. Healthy breakfast. Try to ensure that your child has a healthy breakfast, since we know it is the most important meal of the day. What they eat in the morning will affect how they learn, feel, and behave throughout the school day. If you have to (with picky eaters), offer a motivator/reward for eating a healthy breakfast.
6. Homework space. Set up a specific place for the child to do homework (it is always best for the child to work at a desk/work table away from distractions, as opposed to places where they may have distractions). Create conditions for attention and success by ensuring that the desk surface is clear, a supply box or bin of school supplies is available, toys/games/leisure books/videogames/trading cards, etc. are out of sight, a clock or timer is in sight, and that the desk chair is comfortable and an appropriate size for the child (if his or her feet dangle OR are up on the chair, make adjustments; ideally the child’s feet should be flat on the floor or a stool and their body should be in right angles).
7. Don’t over schedule. This is always a difficult challenge for parents since we all know that sports, classes, music lessons, etc. are GREAT for kids. So often I observe kids being so booked up after school that by the time they get home, they are tired and spent; and this is often the time we have to put challenging demands upon them, including homework, chores, bathing routines, etc. We wonder why it often “goes south.” Also, sometimes it’s cool when they can just “be kids” and have time to relax, hang out, have a friend over, or play. (It is what we used to do when we were kids!) If possible, try to schedule some of their extra-curricular activities on weekends when they do not have as many demands as during the week.
8. Family dinner. Try to have family dinners during the week which includes folks talking about their days; there is a lot of research out there suggesting that family dinners are beneficial for a child’s development, sense of self/other, and connectedness. In our fast paced world where days fly by, it is lovely when we can sit together and “be present” with each other for 30 minutes a day. Some families have a ritual of going around and having everyone talk about their day. It is important for the parents or care givers to talk about their day/life too since many of our kids can tend towards “it’s all about me all the time.”
9. Exercise is important for all folks, but really important for kids who sit for long periods of time or kids who have extreme energy levels (high or low). If they do not participate in regular sports or gymnastics: take walks, have them walk the dog, walk to destinations instead of using the car, go for fun hikes in the park, take them to jungle gyms, ride bikes, go swimming at a local pool, set up equipment or obstacle courses in your backyard, have them watch videos with fun exercise programs, and incorporate physical activity into every playdate. We all know how good exercise can impact learning, behavior, mood, attention, and overall health.
Editor’s Note: GREAT tips! I hope these help give fellow Lounge Moms high marks on back-to-school prep!
About the Author: Robin D. Allen, PhD, is a Behavioral Specialist and Parent Educator in the Washington D.C. area. She has provided consultation and support services to individuals, organizations, schools, and families for more than 25 years.