Parenting with a PhD: Taming the Afterschool Chaos

Birmingham is now officially back-to-school, which means we’re also back-to-after-school. If your family’s like most families, the hours between school letting out and bedtime are a non-stop whirlwind of activities, homework, arguments, dinner prep, and screen-time. The chaos overwhelmed me last week and I knew I needed to start this week with a little more structure. They have rules during school hours, why not during after-school hours? So, I made some.

Our rules sheet is posted in the homework area. I printed in color to help distinguish the different tasks. Your afternoons may look at bit different than ours but there are ways to adapt. If your child stays at school for an extended day program or extracurricular activity, the same basic structure will likely work but the amount of time you have will be shorter. Consider cutting back on number of chores or having your child do a chore before school. Find out if there’s time to start homework in the afterschool program and request that he complete at least some of his work there. If your child comes home from school completely wiped out and irritable, insert a 30-minute freeplay break before homework time starts. Use your best judgment about whether screens are allowed during that time – some kids have a really hard time breaking away to start homework. Likely, your fatigued child would best be served by some outside playtime instead of screens anyway. Set a timer so the break doesn’t extend indefinitely.

Many elementary-aged kids won’t have homework, which is perfectly age-appropriate. Having “homework time” anyway can help set them up for better study habits in middle and high school so consider putting that structure in place now. For my Kindergartener, “homework time” means we read books or go through site word flashcards together, or she draws unicorns. (Actually, I have to draw the unicorns and she colors them in). Active homework like going on a nature walk or going around the house “collecting” as many sounds as you can are great options for busy little ones. Another benefit of having your younger kids complete some homework time is that it means a quieter house for your older ones who have actual work to turn in. Making the rule that no one uses screens until everyone is done can help keep distractions and fear of missing out to a minimum. If you’re creating your own homework, use the 10 minutes per grade rule of thumb: 10 minutes for 1st graders, 20 minutes for 2nd graders, etc. for actual work (e.g., worksheets, math facts, etc.). Reading, drawing, and exploring type “homework” can be unlimited.

Without further ado, the rules that are keeping after-school time (somewhat) sane in our house. Open the PDF version to make changes that work best for your family. A note about making lunches, we have a separate list in the kitchen (we love lists) with the categories of items they need in their lunches: 1 protein (with examples), 1 grain (with examples), 1 small sweet, and unlimited fruits and vegetables. Use pictures for younger kids to help them remember their options.

After School Rules:

  1. Get a Snack
    A. Drinks: Water, Milk
    B. Food: Fruit, Vegetables, Cheese
  2. Sit at homework table or couch
    A. Complete work from Teacher
    B. Read for 20 minutes
    C. Prepare for upcoming tests
    D. Work on upcoming projects
  3. Show Mom any papers to sign
  4. Pack your backpack for the next day
  5. Complete your two chores
    CHILD 1 (6th grade):
    Empty First laundry basket
    Empty Second laundry basket
    Alternate: Fold 10 laundry items
    CHILD 2 (3rd grade):
    Feed all animals
    Empty Recycling &/or trash
    Alternate: Clean cat box
    CHILD 3 (Kindergarten):
    Fold 10 items
    Empty & refill silverware
    Alternate: Clean bathroom sink
  6. Make lunch and fill water bottle for tomorrow. Place in fridge, if needed
  7. Free Time
    Play with friends: until dinner or time to go somewhere
    Use a screen: 1 hour max
    Read: Unlimited
    Board Games: Unlimited
    Toys: Unlimited

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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