You probably have noticed the prominent displays of school supplies out at your local supermarkets and other stores. It’s that time of the year again already—back to school.
The fade of summer and rush to set up life to run smoothly during the school year can stress even the most organized family, so if you’re biting your nails and losing sleep, you’re not alone. You might be years (or decades, let’s be real) past having to shimmy into gym uniforms and remembering to ask permission to use the bathroom, but there’s still a lot to get prepared for.
You can keep your sanity without going full-out obnoxious. Let’s talk about how to chill out, slow down, and still rock that snack list.
Tired parents and tired kids make everything else harder. Overtired children don’t learn as easily, they’re more likely to have behavioral issues, and they’re setting up lifelong patterns that can be hard to break (with serious long-term consequences). Depending on age, school-aged kids need anywhere from 8 to 11 hours of sleep per day. Add up the travel and school time kids have, as well as homework, and you’ll see this can be easier said than done. So plan for it carefully.
2. Creative Clothing Choices
Put kids to bed in their clothes, or lay them out the night before. Hear me out. Some of us aren’t morning people. Some of us really, really struggle to roll out of bed and hit the ground running, kids and adults alike. Consider putting such kids to bed in the clothes they need to be in for school the next day. Then you don’t have to wrestle a tired and crabby kid into pants and can worry about other things like making sure they’re actually brushing their teeth and not forgetting homework.
Kids who are a little less morning-averse might not need to actually snooze in their outfit, but it’s still helpful to find all the accessories and pieces the night before and lay them out, so you’re not desperately hunting for clean and matching socks at 6 a.m.
3. Mealtime Matters
Between sports, after-school activities, church activities, and all the other midweek madness that comes with kids involved in life, meals get complicated, which can get expensive. Eating out, especially with lots of tiny people in tow, adds up quickly.
Meal planning helps with this. If you don’t thrive on writing spreadsheets and keeping an elaborate Pinterest of recipes, don’t feel like a failure. Some people love doing this, and you can use their planning skills. There are sites and plans to fit just about any budget, lifestyle, and set of allergies. My personal food savior is the crockpot, especially when I can batch-cook things, freeze them, and then slow-cook it all day as life moves on.
4. Angle In
Ramp up routines a week before school starts. If your summer schedule doesn’t mesh with the school-year schedule, don’t plan to just jump into early mornings and routines last-minute. That’s a perfect recipe for morning tantrums and hectic evenings. Try to spend a week or two before the first day of school bringing those routines closer together until things are in sync and flowing smoothly. Kids thrive on knowing what’s next, and that predictability is good for parents, too.
5. Force Free Time
All those activities sound so good. Enriching, character building, and they’ll make our kids smarter and more coordinated and able to play perfectly in teams. But then you’re never home, and it becomes nearly impossible to foster family time, homework, all of the practices and games, and suddenly no one has any free time.
Down time and even boredom are really important for kids. The benefits of boredom aren’t anything new and revolutionary, but they’re easy to overlook. Consider these words from a philosopher in 1930: “A child develops best when, like a young plant, he is left undisturbed in the same soil. Too much travel, too much variety of impressions, are not good for the young, and cause them as they grow up to become incapable of enduring fruitful monotony.”
6. Pick One Activity Per Person
Since you’re going to be keeping free time in your kids’ lives (and yours, too, right?), you’ll need to limit activities. Have kids pick one. One sport. One passion. One at a time. For seasonal pursuits, pick up another in the down time. Or don’t, I’m not your boss. It’s always easier to add more than to be overextended and trying to figure out how to keep everyone running smoothly. Decisions aren’t forever, and there’s no shame in trying things and moving on to a different activity.
7. Stock Up on Coffee
Best-laid plans aside, you’re going to be short on sleep, patience, and time, so don’t be short on coffee. Sometimes you just need that extra boost to get through carpooling and wrestling everyone out of the door on time. Do yourself a favor and assume you’re going to need to embrace coffee, so have some good beans ready. Embrace the sweet, sweet jolt of energy that coffee provides.
8. Forget the Joneses
Some other family is always going to do more and better, then make sure people notice. Don’t compare yourself and your kids to them, because life isn’t a competition. Work with your family, and remember that you love each other. Smile at those kids, give your sweetheart a big kiss, and make this school year fabulous.