School. A welcome word in the homes of parents who, for the past three months, spent every day hauling screaming kids around to all the activities that help create the “well-rounded” people that parents want them to be. Just days closer to binge-watching that show on Netflix without the constant cries of “CAN I HAVE A SNACK?!” Congrats, parents, your days of lovingly untangling Elsa wigs and pulling stickers off the dog are over – at least for now.
For the parents of school-aged children, the first few weeks of the new school year might mean finally having some much-deserved peace and quiet. However, there are still lunches that need packing, First Day of School posters that need to be created, and copious numbers of glue sticks that must be purchased. Someone also had to start tearing those munchkins off their iPads before 10pm and start convincing them to look at a book. “How do I do that?” you ask, “Timmy is still running around on his sugar high at 11pm.” Well it’s starting, and you have to prepare. Here are some tips that can get you and your little angels ready for school.
1. Put Them to Bed
Sleep. You need it. They need it. And chances are they need more of it than they are getting. Children can survive on little sleep, but they can’t thrive on it. Kids 3 to 5 years old should be sleeping at least 10 to 13 hours a day. And kids 6 to 12 years of age should be sleeping at least 9 to 12 hours a day. That means if they need to be up at 6am to catch their 7am bus, they need to be in bed by at least 9pm for older ones and 7pm for younger ones. Keep in mind that those times aren’t taking into account all of those bedtime stories, drinks of water, and questions about the way the world works, either, so you may need to make that bedtime even earlier. Their teachers will thank you, as you know what your kids are like when they’ve only slept for six hours.
2. Do Less
Easiest one on the list. Think of all the things your kids have to do most days. They go to ballet, tap, jazz, modern dance, soccer, Brownies, Cub Scouts, 4-H, piano lessons, karate, and swimming lessons. And now they have to go to school. Pick one activity, maybe two for older kids; you’ll thank yourself for this decision. Kids today are experiencing way more stress than kids should have to. They will have their whole lives to over-commit to way too many things. Harvard is not going to look to see if they went to ballet when they were 4. Too many activities can be over-stimulating for children; this leads to meltdowns, and we know you want less of those. Focus on time together as a family and enjoying down time together.
3. Create an Environment That Promotes Lifelong Learning
You may have hated school. You may hate to read. That’s your right ... but don’t pass those messages on to your children. Read to your children every day; it’s the best thing you can do for them (along with sleeping more and doing less). When children are read to, it helps them to learn and to understand how language works. Encourage them to do well in school, to question everything (even though they are probably rock stars at that already), and to find enjoyment in learning. When they want to know how Cheez Whiz (organic, of course) gets into the can, look it up. Speak respectfully about their school and their teachers; they do a lot for very little, and you know what your kids can be like. After all, you just spent the months pulling M&M’s out of their noses.
As the warm weather winds to an end, cherish these last couple of sunny days with your children. Spend time as a family, get off the screens and get outside, read a book, go for a walk, and learn something new. Create some memories together before you’re trying to help your 9-year-old with math that no one can possibly understand without a calculator. And do yourself and everyone else a favor and get them to bed!
Olivia Tomfohrde, MS, MFT, holds a master’s degree in family therapy from UW-Stout. She works at HopeFree Family Therapy in Eau Claire and First Things First Counseling in Altoona.