[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t is back to school time again. For many of us, this time of year brings mixed emotions. On the one hand, it is hard to say good-bye to the less structured, lazier summer days and evenings without homework and after school activities.
On the other hand, we are excited for new beginnings and more structure and routine for our kids and ourselves. As a mother of four, I know what it is like to get everyone ready for the new school year, back into their routines and still find even a small amount of time for yourself. As the summers would come to an end, I would start dreading the hectic schedules and time spent in the car trying to get my kids to their schools and different sports and activities. Through the years, I have become very good at streamlining the process. Although back to school can be a very hectic time, there are things we can do to make the back to school crazies a little easier to manage.
Make sure you have your child’s school supplies and clothing ready. Most schools have their school supply list and dress code requirements on their websites. Check now to make sure you are prepared. Buy the most essential items and wait a few days after schools start to get the rest. I dread the school supply shopping on the first day of school when stores are crammed with excited kids and stressed parents.
Take advantage of the fact that most teachers give their students the first week to acquire their supplies and wait a few days before you hit the school supply store. Involve your child in planning their “first day of school” outfit. If your child wears a uniform, choices are easier to manage. If there is no uniform required, make sure to check your child’s outfit for compliance with dress code. If your child is going to a new school, find out the best driving route ahead of time and leave early on the first few days of school since traffic will be the worst on those days.
Help your child make transitions
I remember when one of my children was going from elementary to middle school. She had been very excited, but as the school year started she would come home in tears. I felt very stressed, and asked her what was wrong? Was someone bullying her? Did she dislike one of her teachers? When she finally admitted what was bothering her, the solution was simple. She was getting lost in the hallways during switching of classes. New at the school and intimidated to ask for help from other students, she was stressed and confused and would get lost each time she had to switch class. To help her out, we went to the school and got a map of the hallways. Then we walked the daily pattern of switching classes and marked the map for her. I saw that in just a few days, her anxious expression while going to school was replaced with a look of relaxed excitement.
Pack your child’s lunch and your own
If your send lunch to school with your child, start packing the night before. I made school lunches to go for 25 years, so I have the process down to a science. Put non-perishables in their lunch box the night before. Keep it nutritious but simple. Ask your kids to get involved in packing their lunches, as they get older. Make a habit of bringing your own lunch or snacks. Not only will you save money and calories, you will also avoid wrecking your diet when hunger strikes and you have nothing to eat. Make staples such as hardboiled eggs, grilled chicken breast or cut up fruits and veggies ahead of time so you can grab and go at the last minute.
Put your workout clothes out the night before when you get your children to put their clothes out. If you have your workout clothes in a bag in the trunk, or even a pair of sneakers there, you won’t have any excuses not to wok out when the opportunity arises.
Don’t over-schedule your child
Although we all want to give our children every opportunity to try new things and experience as much as possible, an overscheduled, frazzled child is not what we want. Resist the urge to put your child in too many after school activities, unless they take place at school. Sit down with your child and go through your schedules together. Find activities where you can carpool with friends to cut down on your time spent driving.
Schedule time for yourself
It is not selfish to take care of yourself. If YOU are overwhelmed and stressed out, everyone knows it and suffers. How can you find time for yourself when there isn’t enough time in the day to get even the basic things done? For me, it meant getting up a little earlier than my kids to squeeze in 20 minutes of exercise in my living room before starting our day. I also tried to schedule regular appointments for my hair and nails, so that I would feel put together and attractive. It is not fun to feel like you are taking care of everyone but yourself. You end up feeling resentful and your family will know it. Hire a babysitter once in a while to go on a date night with your significant other or to get a manicure and a pedicure. A friend of mine gets a college student to take her kids to the park one afternoon each week, so she can enjoy some quiet time for herself to get a massage or just to catch up on the news.
When your kids are older and can be dropped off at activities, use that precious time for yourself. I have friends who wear workout clothes to their kid’s baseball practices and they spend the time walking with another group of moms instead of sitting on the sidelines chatting. If your child is in a program inside, try to find an activity or gym close by that you can join while they are at their program instead of just sitting in your car waiting for them to finish.
Set regular times for homework
Child experts agree. Structure is one of the most important things for kids to feel secure. State your expectations make a schedule with your child or children and stick to it. Everyone will be happier with an organized school week, as opposed to a chaotic one.
Have your children help with chores
Not only will this help them learn responsibility and give them a sense of purpose and pride, it will also free up some of your precious time. Look at the chores you have to do and divvy them up on age appropriate levels. A young child can easily help with getting the mail, throwing out the garbage and even caring for a pet. An older child can help by setting the table, doing dishes, light housework and meal planning. I would have my kids do some errands when they started driving, to help me manage the schedules of four children.
Reward yourselves, but don’t make rewards food centered
At the end of a busy week where you managed to meet everyone’s needs, including yourself, make sure to reward yourself on a job well done. Rewards should be motivation for your kids to stick to their schedules and finish their chores. Plan some enriching, fun activities for the family, such as a trip to a museum or a bike ride. Pamper yourself every so often with a stress relieving massage, facial or maybe a movie night. The important thing is to avoid associating food with rewards, as you don’t want your children to develop those kinds of habits..
As a mom and “commander in chief” of the family unit, make the time for yourself so that your children have a relaxed, well-planned school year. As the saying goes. “ Ain’t momma happy, ain’t nobody happy”!
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