Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ready, Set, Go Back!

By Jenny Runkel

Whether your little one is headed to kindergarten, college, or somewhere in between, you are facing that time of year again…the time of much rejoicing for parents and much lamenting for children (and most of their teachers).
That’s right, it’s back to school time. Whether your summer is coming to a bittersweet end, or just a “Thank God it’s over” end, it’s time for you to prepare yourself and your family for the familiar grind of academia.

We’ve compiled a few tips and tricks that will help you stay ScreamFree through that process and hopefully beyond it:

1. Back up bedtime. NOW. 

If your family is anything like ours, we’ve been on the go with vacations, summer camps, and family visits. All of those are great, but they tend to be accompanied with late nights, less than structured days, and a lazy summer mentality.

It’s time to get the kids (and you) used to an earlier bedtime and an earlier morning. Word of warning: Don’t do this all at once. Move your kids toward bed – with a familiar routine – about 10 minutes earlier each night and get them up 10 minutes earlier each day, until that fateful day arrives. Their bodies and yours will be adjusted by then and you’ll be able to skip at least some of the back to school blues.

2. Encourage goal setting. 

Even your 1st grader can be taught about setting goals. This is a great activity to do together. Too often, we set goals for our kids without really letting them in on the process. If our job is to raise adults, we should be giving them more and more ownership over their lives each year. Ask them what they are interested in accomplishing this year. Help them think of possible goals and be sure not to dismiss the ones they come up with. Then talk openly together about what it might take to achieve those goals.

3. Get your house ready for the paper tornado. 

I thought that computers were supposed to save trees and eliminate the paper trail altogether, but my kids bring home more each year. If I don’t have a plan in place for what to do with math worksheets and watercolor octopi, I will be buried alive. First, go through last year’s stuff if you haven’t already. Be brutal and only keep things like standardized test scores and written assignments that really show their personality. Aim to reduce whatever you’ve kept to a small stack that you can put in one file folder.

For the incoming flux, get a small hanging file folder box or even an accordion folder that you keep near the place where kids keep their backpacks. Teach them how to sort their incoming mail just like you do your own. Immediately recycle the junk mail, mark down important dates and events on the family calendar (and toss the paper it came in on), and file the completed worksheets, etc…in a folder with their name on it. Go through it together at the end of each grading period and repeat step one.

4. Give them more responsibility. 

I stopped going through backpacks in about 2nd grade when I reached in and felt something squishy that I swear moved. After that, it was their job each afternoon to take out any papers I’m supposed to see, put their emptied lunch boxes by the sink, and hang their bookbags by the back door.

I know this causes great anxiety in some parents. But remember, we’re striving to create adults here – ones that will be doing this all for themselves in a few short years. Teach them how, let them do it, watch them learn (sometimes through failure).

5. Be careful what you say yes to now. 

You are about to be bludgeoned by requests for this activity and that one. You want your children to experience all that life has to offer, which in our society can mean cub scouts, gymnastics, math clubs, church groups, and playdates (and all of this before they even reach elementary school). Doing everything is just a recipe for resentment. Build in some downtime so that your kids can just be kids.

All of these tips are designed to help you keep your cool as your kids’ school schedule cranks up the heat. Your attitude and demeanor at home is every bit as important to their academic and social success as the school they attend and the teachers they have. So, savor the pool a few more times and then get busy getting ready so that you are all prepared for that first day of school.

Hal E. Runkel, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist and author of the groundbreaking book ScreamFree Parenting: Raising Your Kids by Keeping Your Cool, from Broadway Books and Waterbrook Press. Visit for more information.

1 comment:

  1. A post definitely directed at parents with younger children
    Just a few thoughts:
    Goal setting with young children can start with little steps so that a child can actually experience their choices and the subsequent success if they follow through. Yes, we want to teach our children to be responsible and yes, we certainly want our children to “own” their choices but a child may feel pressured by a parent asking him what he is interested in accomplishing this year. Can he answer honestly and say “I want a girlfriend” or “I really want to level up my character on Halo ?” The child knows that there are “right” answers that fit into the parameters of being a good, dutiful child. (And wow, do they know this from a very early age!) I just speak a cautionary warning as to what we bring to the table as parents. Do we really want to hear what is important to our children – or do we want to hear them mirror our own expectations?
    I would rather let opportunities in goal setting evolve out of what is really alive in my child’s life. I would rather listen and listen some more so that when the teachable moment arises I don’t miss the opportunity to be a supportive presence in my child’s life.