Parenting with a PhD: Five Habits To Start Before Back-to-School

We’re turning another page on the calendar today and you know what that means – it’s almost Back-to-School time! Whether you’re celebrating or mourning, you only have a few more days to prepare yourself and your kids. Make the transition back easier by getting into these five habits now!

Sleeping: Summer sleep schedules are all over the place with travel, special events, and the fact that the sun never goes down but staying up until midnight isn’t going to fly during the school year (Hello, 6:00 a.m.). Start gradually working on earlier bed and wake times now so you’ll all be in the habit by the time school starts. Backing up in 15-minute increments tends to work well. For example, if the kids are sleeping in until 10:30 a.m. now, wake them at 10:15 for a day or two, then 10:00, 9:45, 9:30, etc. On the other end, start the bedtime routine 15 minutes earlier every few days until they’re eventually in bed on time a few days before school starts. Ensure that your child’s bed and wake times during the school year allow the recommended amount of sleep per night by checking out this handy chart from the National Sleep Foundation. Most elementary school-aged kids need 9 to 11 hours of sleep per night but some may require a bit less or more. If your child is hard to wake up in the morning, she’s probably not getting enough rest or the sleep is of poor quality. Although it can be tempting to let kids go to bed late or sleep in on the weekends, that practice could cause problems. If your child’s normal bedtime is 8:00 and he usually wakes up at 6:00, shifting to 9:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. on weekends should be fine but don’t allow a lot more wiggle room.

Eating: If meals have been a little loose (e.g., a handful of grapes and some Cheetos) this summer, it’s time to get things back on track. Skipping breakfast may have been fine when your kids slept until noon but won’t work once they’re out the door by 7:15 a.m. Plan on three meals a day plus two healthy snacks. Once school starts back, most kids are hungry when they walk in the door so get something in their systems before they go play or start homework. If your child has afterschool activities, keep some fruit, nuts, and water in the car for on-the-go snacking.

Moving: If your kids have been on screens all summer, it’s time they start preparing for the physical demands of the school day now. Brainstorm together a few ways to get them out and moving for at least 45-60 minutes for each of these remaining summer days. Remember there are indoor options like McWane Science Center and trampoline and climbing parks. Once the school year starts, plan for at least 30 minutes of outside time at home either before school if your child’s an early riser or right after school before homework time. For many kids, the time they spend in recess and P.E. may not be enough physical activity so get them moving at home, too.

Playing: Your kiddos probably have several after-school activities that keep them active and engaged, which is great. However, they also need totally unstructured, mindless free time in their daily schedules. Screen-free, ideally. Try to find pockets in the day where your kid isn’t expected to be anywhere doing anything in particular and just let him figure something out. Denise Pope, Stanford University professor and co-author of the book Overloaded and Unprepared, recommends that kids get playtime, downtime, and family time, or “PDF,” every day. A good rule of thumb is to try and make sure the time spent on PDF roughly equals the time spent in structured extracurriculars (e.g., soccer, piano, etc.). Tough to do if your kid is overscheduled so prioritize and don’t try to do everything all at once.

Working: Make homework time less chaotic by creating a quiet space and stocking it with pencils, paper, etc. Prioritize keeping this space clutter-free to reduce stress and make it easier for kids to find what they need. If possible, start homework at a consistent time every day. As a general rule, homework time should last 10 minutes per grade with 1st graders having 10 minutes of work, 2nd graders having 20 minutes, etc. If homework is taking significantly more time, check with your child’s teacher to figure out what’s going on. It can be really problematic for kids to lose sleep or playtime in order to complete homework so problem-solve how to get it all done in a reasonable time frame. Ease your kids back into homework time before school starts by spending some portion of these remaining summer days engaged in reading, science experiments, or internet research on a topic of their choosing.

About Kristen:

Kristen Berthiaume, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist with Grayson and Associates. She obtained her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Kentucky. She completed a predoctoral internship in clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a post- doctoral fellowship in the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) Program at Duke University Medical Center. She specializes in providing assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and families dealing with the following issues: ADHD, learning disorders, social skill deficits, organizational problems, behavioral difficulties, anxiety, and depression. She generally focuses on behavioral and cognitive- behavioral techniques, but maintains a flexible approach to therapy. Her other day job is as mom to her daughters, ages ten and four, and seven-year-old son.

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