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4 Tips for Parents Gearing Up for Back to School

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Like any transition, back to school can be chaotic and emotional. But it doesn’t have to be. If I’d known when my kids were in elementary school how to approach the new school year with organization and emotional intelligence, it would’ve saved my family some grief. We eventually hammered out a system that works--just in time for them to move on to high school. Here’s what I learned in hindsight.

Establish a Positive Working Relationship With Your Teacher

One of the hardest things for parents and kids is adjusting to a new teacher. See what you can do to help out in the classroom right from the start. Teachers, as we all know, are criminally overworked, and there may be some way you can pitch in. Even a couple hours of polishing desktops will go a long way in establishing a collaborative relationship. Get acquainted with your child’s new teacher, not to curry favors, but to get to know their style a bit so you can better understand your child’s experience.

Try to forgo judgement, good or bad, and remember that you and your child may have very different feelings about their teacher. Also keep in mind that whatever you or your child may feel toward them, it doesn’t necessarily translate into the quality of learning experience a teacher can provide for your child. Try to keep an open mind. Some of our best teachers were difficult, remember?

You and your child’s teacher don’t need to be friends. You’re more like colleagues. You have different roles in your child’s life, but a shared goal for their enrichment and well being. If the teacher knows you’re there to support them, it’ll be easier for them to approach you openly when, for example, the time for parent-teacher conferences arrives.

Let the Kids Write a Daily and Weekly Schedule

Because it can be tricky to acclimate to a more structured schedule after a (relatively) carefree summer, I’ve found it helps to organize daily and weekly schedules in advance. Hang a dry erase calendar or a blackboard in the hall, somewhere the family can see how the days and weeks will go. Your kids will have an easier time when they know what to expect, and so will you!

The best thing for my family was to set schedules and boundaries early, and be firm about them from the get go. Better still, let the kids set them. They’re still at the age where they want to please you, so savor that! You’ll be amazed how well elementary school aged kids police themselves if you extend them a little trust.

Try asking them when they think is the best time to do homework, to wake up in the morning, to have screentime or playdates. Honor the rules they set. Write them on the hall chalkboard, and stick to them. If you’re lax about boundaries early on, they’ll unravel completely. Being firm early in the school year gives you room to relax as the seasons change and everyone gets into their stride.

Be Intentional About Your Own Time

With the kids back in school, your schedule will probably look different, too. Instead of letting the chips fall where they may, think about what you want to accomplish in the next nine months, and rewrite your schedule around that. Factor in all the little things like dropoff and pickup times, work and errands, and after school activities. Use the remaining time diligently for side projects, personal care, or intentional leisure (even if it’s just 15 minute walk). Every time I write it out I find I have more time than I think!

Check in throughout the school year to make sure you’re on track, and getting done what you wanted to get done.

Work With the Momentum of the Changing Seasons

The school year cycle helps us stay in tune with the rhythms of the seasons. The bittersweet return of the school year perfectly mirrors the waning of summer into fall. This is an opportunity to connect your children with the natural cycles of one thing passing into the next. Don’t get so caught up in buying binders and pencil cases that you forget to be present with the transition. Take some time to reflect with your kids on the fun things you did with the summer. Find out some of their highlights, and offer some of your own. You might be surprised at the differences.

Then segue the conversation into hopes and fears for the coming school year. Mention specific holidays or events you’re looking forward to. Find out what’s on your child’s mind for the future. More than just a special nicety, a conversation like this helps your children mentally and emotionally adjust to the shifting reality of another school year starting. It’s healthy. And it’s the kind of talk that’s perfect for a late summer walk.

I wish I would’ve known these things when my kids started first grade. Luckily you don’t have to reinvent the wheel with the coming school year. Make it easy on yourself and your kids by getting to know their teacher early on, setting up personal and family schedules, and emotionally acknowledging the natural transition of summer into fall. And then have a great school year.

This article was originally published on on August 2, 2018.

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