We are creatures of habit - whether we like it or not. As the long, lazy, unstructured days of summer come to a close, many of us feel an unbidden craving for the cozy, comfortable, structured routines of fall. Indeed, this craving presents because our brains are actually wired for the safety of routine. Having a routine means the element of surprise - or the "jump-scare" - is erased and in its place is the gentle, rhythmic plodding along of the routine.
Children especially need routine in order to feel safe and contained in a world that can be very busy and overwhelming. This is perhaps no more true than during times of significant transition, including the back-to-school period. I see it in my practice (and my life as a mom!) all the time. Times of transition or change - back to school, winter break, spring break, even Monday mornings after relaxing weekends - often pull the rug out from under kids and life becomes extra difficult!
But here is the good news. There is an antidote to all of that difficult chaos. And it is as simple as ... ROUTINE!
Here are 6 ideas to make your back-to-school routine more relaxing, happy, and settled:
1. Keep bedtime simple
Sleep is essential to healthy growth and development. And having a solid bedtime routine will promote good sleep. Remember it takes the average person a complete hour to go from fully awake to fully asleep. If you do an hour-long bedtime routine pretty much the same way every night, your child's brain will get the message that it is time to shut down for sleep. And make sure that you build in lots of connection time with your littles before sleep as it will help them even more to drift off into la-la land.
2. Aim for connected mornings
Set your alarm clock for 15 minutes earlier than you need to in order to create some space in your morning for actual connected time with your kids. Sitting down to a 15 minute breakfast together, snuggling up for a morning story, or sharing a warm cuppa something cozy are all ways you can get some QT in with your kids before sending them off into the demanding world of school. This routine settles their brains, priming them for an openness to learning, and shoring them up for the challenges that may come their way through the school day.
3. Make it visual
We think our kids get it. Right? I mean seriously - if you do your morning routine the same way every day you shouldn't have to actually remind your kids to brush their teeth or put on their socks or pack their water bottle - right? In fact, lots of kids struggle with those basic kinds of things in the morning because mornings are stressful! And because they are kids and are still perfecting their brains. This means they are bound to get sidetracked here and there. So take the guess-work out of it all and create a VISUAL schedule that your kids can follow with only the occasional gentle prompt from you. You can come up with your own using clip art or try something like Easy Daysies who have already done all the work for you!
image via Easy Daysies
4. Don't rush
Being rushed is super stressful for both kids (and adults!). So create time and space in your morning for all of the things that need to happen, including the inevitable unexpected things like cereal down the front of a clean outfit or the leaky water bottle that soaks a backpack. Try to take care of as much as you can the evening before with outfits picked out, lunches sorted out, and backpacks already filled up with homework and field trip forms. And if you can plan your departure early enough that there is also time and space for your child to arrive at school and settle in without rushing, even better.
5. Track the time
Kids often don't have a well-developed sense of the passage of time until early adolescence. So they aren't actually trying to make you crazy by getting distracted and not keeping an eye on the clock. To help with some of the frustration around this you can use a visual timer that actually shows the child the time going by. A couple that I like to use in my clinic and at home are Time Timer (available as an app or an actual clock face) or a lighted timer such as Time Tracker, where the light slowly changes color as time ticks by.
6. Feel the Rhythm
Surprise and spontaneity are not generally well-received by most human beings. On the flip-side, having a rhythm to your days and your life provides a sense of safety. As you get your routine sorted out, aim for there to be a sort of rhythm that develops over the course of the week that your kids can feel. As they get a sense of how mornings go, how bedtimes go, how Fridays go (pizza night), how Tuesdays go (basketball practice) and so on, you will feel them relax right into that rhythm. Once this happens, the rhythm just carries the schedule forward and life feels a whole lot easier.
Back to school doesn't have to be crazy and stressful! A little bit of routine can go a long way.