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Challenge: Back to School

Practical Mindfulness: Back to School Advice

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I can hardly believe we're thinking about back to school when it seems I just started to settle into a summer routine. For years now, this time of year brings a twinge of melancholy as I'm bombarded with back to school catalogs and reminders school starts in about a month. I want to rebel from reminders of back to school and hold onto and savor ever remaining moment of summer. But there's a balance of practically needing to prepare for school and mindfully enjoying the last month of summer.

My oldest daughters, twins, will be starting 7th grade, and I've been through a few summers now, prepping emotionally and practically for back to school. If I could go back and tell my younger self how to spend the last weeks of summer before school, I'd give her this advice to be practical and mindful:

Find a balance between being practical and mindful. Let's face it, as a parent, there are things that must get done before school starts. And, it's also important to be mindful, being in the moment, appreciating and enjoying your family as summer winds down. It's all about balance, doing the “have to's” and the “want to's.” So aim to balance the two competing desires, getting the things done that have to be done and creating time enjoying your family.

Practical Advice:

1. Limit Back to School Shopping. Of course, there are things you have to shop for in order to prepare for school. But, you don’t have to do all of your back to school shopping before school starts. Regarding clothes, if you have to have something new to wear on the first day of school, go out and get one outfit, don't do all of the shopping. Many items go on sale after school starts; you likely have more than enough clothes for at least the first month of school. And, by taking the pressure off to get the shopping done, you'll have more time to enjoy what summer has to offer.

2. Adjust Sleep Schedules. Summer is all about later bedtimes, being outside, taking in nature and relaxing. But drastic bedtime changes from the summer to the school year can leave kids cranky and tired the first week of school. Two weeks before school starts, begin to ease back into a school schedule by adjusting bedtime. Don't go for the drastic change in bedtime. For example, if your child is going to bed at 9:00 pm during the summer and your goal is an 8:00 pm bedtime for school, start with adjusting bedtime in fifteen-minute increments. For the first five days, move bedtime to 8:45 pm. The next five days after, move bedtime to 8:30 pm, the remaining five days, move bedtime to 8:15 pm and then the first full week of school, shift bedtime to 8:00 pm.

3. Prepare Your Pantry. Use the last several weeks of summer to get your pantry ready for school lunches and easy back to school dinners. With four kids and different age levels to accommodate, we pack our dry snacks for the month, savory and sweet, place them in two baskets in the pantry for grab and go sides for lunches. We make the main sandwich or pack thermos leftovers the night before and having the snacks side pre-packed makes for ease packing lunches. Not only does prepackaged snacks help keep things fair, but everyone also gets the same amount, it helps kids to visualize what a serving size looks like and takes some stress out packing lunch.

4. Make a Family Calendar. Part of back to school means getting organized for the school year. A family calendar helps to see visually the who, what and where family members need to be on any given day of the week. Keep it in a place where all family members have access to it and update as needed.

5. Create a File System for School Papers. A couple of years ago I saw a system for organizing school papers that cleared up paper clutter and helped organize important papers. Simply take a vertical file holder and place one file folder per family member in a common area of the kitchen or home office. Don't use a horizontal file holder because this creates a stacking of papers which makes access to the papers more challenging. Vertical file holder is the way to go, trust me on this. Anytime important papers come in, simply file into your child's color coded file. Make sure to purge the file every month to avoid paper clutter.

Mindful advice:

1. Practice Breathing. Stress, anxiety and worry create physical disruptions, including irregular breathing. When we experience any of the about mentioned emotions, we can forget to breathe fully. Set a goal to start each day with three to five minutes of intentional, mindful breathing. Simply inhale counting to three, hold your breath counting to three and exhale counting to three. Over time, you won't need to be so formal counting, but the practice will help to increase calm, relaxation and bring focus to your morning. When you find yourself stressed, simply focusing on regulating your breathing for a couple of minutes can be beneficial.

2. Get the Clutter Out of Your Head. When you have a thought of something you need to do to get ready for the school year, write it down. Have you ever noticed how the same "to do" task will repeat in your mind over and over until it gets done or is written down? By making a list of the things they have to do, helps to get the unending chatter of to do clutter out of your mind. Remember it doesn't have to get all done right away, set priorities and tackle things as you can.

3. Plan Family Activities. Regret or "I wish I had done..." can take away from the excitement of a new school year. In the last month of summer talk with your children about what remaining activities they want to do as a family and be sure to add your own. It can be as simple as having a picnic dinner, looking for fireflies, taking a walk, or having a family game night. Low-cost experiences that you can guarantee successful time spent together can go a long way to feeling more connected with family members in the remaining days of summer.

4. Take Time for Yourself. The pressure starts early in the summer for parents to get everyone ready for the school year. Parents often care more about everyone else needs leaving little time left for self-care. The result of not taking care of oneself is exhaustion, fatigue, irritability and stress. All of these emotional states take away from being present in the moment and enjoying your family. By setting time each day and week for yourself, you can replenish your energy and be more fully present when you are with your children.

5. Make a Summer Photo Album. Don't make it complicated or stress about it being perfect, rather print twenty-five to thirty pictures of your families top summer memories and create a keepsake of summer 2015. Research shows that people who look at pictures with pleasant memories have an increased sense of gratitude, happiness, and sense of joy.

Wishing you a happy, joyful remainder of the summer and back to school time of the year!

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