Our back to school survival guide for parents
by Caroline Fontein
As a child, I always viewed going back to school as something fun and exciting to look forward to after the long summer break.
For my mom, I’m sure the experience was much different.
As a single parent of four kids, back to school season could have easily justified a total meltdown. (I'm sure some of you reading this can sympathize.)
I’ll never know exactly how she managed to get my siblings and me up, ready and off to classes on time for all 180 days of the school year, but I included some of her tips below along with advice I gathered from teachers, parents and some additional research.
With just a little planning and some prep work you can help yourself and your family have a successful and stress-free start to the new school year.
Put their mind to it
Having the right mindset is important for all aspects of life, and this includes going to school. Before the new years starts, talk to your kids about the importance of thinking with a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset.
Growth mindset is a term coined by Dr. Carol Dweck after studying the behaviors of thousands of students. It’s the understanding that abilities and intelligence can be developed. This is the opposite of having a fixed mindset where it’s thought that qualities like intelligence and talent are fixed traits.
Maintaining a growth mindset can help your child rebound from failure and maintain a positive attitude about learning because it lets them know that through hard work and effort they have the potential to achieve success. It’s also a method of thinking that can be beneficial for all aspects of life.
Don’t sleep on it
To help your kids get used to an earlier wakeup call, start moving their bedtime back about two weeks before school starts. This way you can help ensure they get up on time while still getting enough sleep, which is key for good cognitive function.
So, how much sleep do your child need? The suggested amount of sleep changes with age, and using your child's actions as a basis for judgment can be deceiving. When children are sleep deprived, they often get wound up instead of feeling drowsy like adults.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleepiness can even look like symptoms of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). You can visit the foundation's site to see what they recommended for your child based on their age.
Define a new eating routine
Along with just having to be awake and ready at a new time, it can be difficult for kids to transition from being able to eat whenever they’re hungry to only being allowed to eat at certain times of the day when they’re back in school.
To help ease this transition before classes start, find out what times your child will be eating lunch and/or having other snacks while at school.
A few weeks before school begins, gradually start feeding them meals and/or snacks according to these times. This way they won’t spend their time at school being distracted by hunger which can impact their ability to concentrate and focus on activities in the classroom.
Prep everything the night before
Clothes: Set out their clothes, shoes, underwear… everything, the night before. This can help minimize tantrums and stress in the morning. You can even try getting a days-of-the-week closet organizer so that it’s easy to plan out their wardrobe for the whole week.
Pro Tip: If they need some help with picking an outfit, turn this nightly ritual into a game. Write colors on pieces of paper that they can pull from a bowl. Whatever color they get can help dictate their outfit for the following day. If the color blue is pulled, they get to pick out a blue shirt or dress or sneakers, you get the idea.
Backpack: Make sure prepping everything includes their school supplies and anything else they might need on their first day and throughout the school year.
Are there signed forms they need to bring in? Are they on medication? Do they need to bring in specific supplies or clothing for a field trip? Get everything ready the night before.
Remember, this isn’t something parents need to do alone. Involve your kids, and make this part of their evening routine before it’s time for bed.
Make lunch after dinner
If you’re going to send your child to school with a lunch, it helps to pack everything the night before. Make packing their lunch part of the after-dinner routine. It’s one less thing you’ll have to think about in the morning.
Plus, if you’re including some leftovers from dinner (i.e. the quinoa salad they actually liked eating or maybe it was the cauliflower crust pizza) it will save you having to put food away and then repack it again in the morning for their lunch.
Pro Tip: If you’re making something for dinner that you know they’ll enjoy for lunch, make extras for your kids to take to school with them the following day.
Encourage a balanced diet and healthy snacking
Eating a balanced diet is especially important for kids, and eating healthier at school improves learning, according to the Center for Disease Control and countless other studies out there.
Along with supporting overall good health, eating a balanced diet has also been linked to higher grades, better memory and alertness and faster information processing, according to Options for Youth.
“We like to tell kids and parents to eat the rainbow, meaning lots of colorful fruits and vegetables. It will help give them the energy they need so they can concentrate and sustain a long day at school,” said Lena Fontein (yes, my mom), who worked as nationally-certified school nurse for 27 years.
Along with planning healthy meals, make sure you have plenty of healthy snack options at home to satiate after school hunger and as an incentive to help your kids finish their homework.
If your kids struggle with eating a balanced diet, supplements can help. At SmartyPants, our multifunctional supplements are packed with vitamins and nutrients and delivered in a delicious gummy format that kids enjoy taking day after day. We get it. The vegetable struggle is real. So, we’re here to help.
Start back-to-school shopping early
Whether it’s school supplies, a new backpack or sneakers, don’t wait until the last minute.
According to the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights and Analytics back-to-school shopping survey, families with children in elementary through high school are expected to spend $696.70 this year, which is up from the $688.62 record set in 2012.
Start early and give yourself time to look for deals. You may also be able to take advantage of some extra savings if your state happens to be one of the nine having a tax holiday before school starts. Check here to see if your state is included.
Before you start purchasing anything, sit down with your children and make a list of everything they need. Don’t forget to take stock of any supplies you may already have at home from the previous year.
After your list is finalized, then it’s time to start hunting for deals whether you’re heading to the store or shopping online.
Here are a few extra tips for back-to-school savings:
- Use camelcamelcamel, a free price tracker for Amazon. You can create an account to get alerts on price drops and even see price history charts on Amazon.
- Look for free shipping or pick-up in store to avoid having to pay for shipping. Many major retailers offer this including: Target, Walmart, Macy’s, OfficeMax, Office Depot, Kohl's, JCPenny, and the list does on. Some stores even offer free same-day pickup.
- Stock up when there’s a good deal on something you know your kids will need more of throughout the school year.
- Save receipts to make returns easier and in case there are price drops. Check your store policy, but most retailers will honor sales prices if you purchased something within a certain time period.
- Don’t let shopping online deter you from purchasing clothes, sneakers or other items that may need to be tried on. Many retailers offer free in-store returns. So it’s easy to send something back or drop something off at the store to get your money back.
- KEEP YOUR EYES PEELED FOR DEALS! It might take some extra time and effort, but there are tons or great deals out there. USA Today put out a great article on all the deals so far for 2019.
Try to keep it clean
Kids can be exposed to a lot of germs and other bacteria while at school that they likely aren’t in contact with at home. To help keep them happy and healthy throughout the school year, talk to your kids about germs and the importance of washing their hands with soap and water after going to the bathroom and before they eat.
It’s also important for them to learn to cover their coughs and sneezes with their elbow. All of these things can help minimize their risk of getting sick and spreading germs to their classmates.
Learn the rules
This applies to what is and is not allowed at your child’s school.
Can they bring anything in their lunch that contains nuts? Are electronic devices allowed? What is the dress code? What is the policy for being late?
It will help you have control and help reduce stress for everyone if you have a good understanding of what’s allowed before the school year starts.
Help them get excited without feeling anxious
It’s common for some kids to feel anxious or stressed out about going back to school, but every new grade is the opportunity for him or her to grow, meet new friends and learn a new definition of fun.
To help your child look forward to the new school year, one teacher recommends talking to them about the value of education and how it opens so many doors, not just for continued learning but for their social life too.
Remind your child that they’re already experts in whatever grade they were just in, and now they have to be models for the newbies. This can help boost their confidence while also encouraging them to set a good example.
Pro teacher tip: If your child seems nervous try reading them a book about going back to school, like “First Day Jitters.”
Ask questions and talk to your teacher
For parents, make sure you ask lots of questions and provide the teacher with any information they may need to know regarding a potential serious food allergy, their behavior, a learning disability and any other concerns.
Open communication is important and will help create a better experience for everyone throughout the school year.
Master the art of saying good bye
We know it might be hard to let go when your kids are young, but your teacher will thank you.
“For parents with young kids, it’s best to drop your child off and leave the classroom. Even if they start crying, it’s better for the child if you leave and let the teacher handle it rather than lingering around,” said elementary school teacher Daniella Moracco from Austin, Texas.
“Whenever parents wait around and try and comfort their kids too much it makes things worse and harder to break the habit. The faster the better, and the more independent their child will become.”
Plan a final hoorah weekend
Doing things that make you and your family feel good is a big part of being happy and healthy. So, don’t let all the back-to-school planning and prep work takeover your summer. There’s still time for some fun in the sun.
Try and make the most of it by planning a family outing or hosting an event to celebrate the end of summer break and the start of another new school year.
Do you have some back to school tips to share? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below.
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