I can't believe it's already August! My mailbox is flooded with the dreaded back-to-school sales. My wife and I are frantically scrambling to get in one last weekend trip with the kids before we succumb to the demands of the school calendar. Just thinking about back-to-school is stressing me out, and I graduated college back in '96.
There are several ways to manage the back-to-school stress that we all feel as parents. First things first: Enjoy the remainder of the summer! There are still several weeks of no school to plan a weekend getaway or day trip to a water park, zoo, camping or the beach. Talk to your kids and ask them if there is something special that they'd like to do before school starts. Have a family meeting, brainstorm some ideas, set a date and do it.
Next, while you are running around trying to buy back-to-school clothes and school supplies, you might want to keep in mind a few important suggestions to help ease the transition from the summer schedule to the school schedule. To begin with, establish routines and be organized, communicate with your partner and children, and review and revisit what worked and didn't work for your family last year.
Establishing routines will decrease the overall stress and anxiety for both you and your children. For example, there is a difference with the bedtime and morning routines from the summer and the school year. Gradually start moving the bedtime to the time that the child will be going to bed come September. This will help get their body and internal clock set with the school clock. Also, start getting the child used to the morning routine of getting up when they would for school. This will also help them go to bed earlier like they would during school.
Another suggestion that I can't stress enough is how important communication is for every family member. Parents must communicate with each other to coordinate their daily schedules with the demands of their children's schedules. Who is making lunches in the morning? Who is getting the kids showered? Who walks the dog? Have the cell phones been charged? Communicating and setting clear expectations for each family member will alleviate confusion, bickering and stress.
Keep in mind that even the most structured schedules can change. For example, a sick child needs to be picked up from school early, the car has a flat tire, the hot water heater has broken, the dog has diarrhea all night — you get my drift. When these things happen, we have to remember to take it all in stride and communicate the needs of each family member.
Most importantly, don't forget to include the children in the expectations and decision-making process. This will empower them and they will be more committed to these expectations because they helped develop them and were involved in the process. Talk to your kids about the best time for them to start their homework.
Some kids like to get it over with and complete their homework right after school. Some kids need to get outside and burn off some pent-up energy before sitting down and focusing on homework. I know that some kids don't even start their homework until 7 p.m. due to their sport schedules. Again, communicate with them so you are all better prepared and nobody is pulling an all-nighter cramming for a history test.
Lastly, remember to review the pros and cons of last school year. What worked and what didn't work? Do you need to change bedtimes or homework times? Did a parent's work schedule change so they may be able to drive a kid to school in the morning? Is a child playing a new sport with a different schedule than last year? Again, it all comes down to keeping the lines of communication open.
For parents, back-to-school can bring an unwelcome stress to a generally relaxed summer. Some simple preparation and communication can make September an exciting time of year.
ADAM GRINDLINGER is a licensed psychotherapist with private practices in both Long Beach and Huntington Beach. He can be reached at (562) 833-8185 or at http://www.adamgrindlinger.com.