DETROIT - You know those rare commercials that crack you up every time you see them? One of my favorites starts to run right around the three- week countdown to back to school.
In this Staples television commercial, an overly articulated voice extolls, "It's back to school time!" While the adolescent boy and girl, with shoulders dropped, drag their feet, in a zombie-like trance, down the aisles shopping for school supplies, their dad jumps for joy pushing the cart to Andy William's holiday classic, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!" I get a kick out of that one every time. I believe it captures a common theme in households across America this time of year.
Special Section:Back To School Guide
Going back to school is a significant change for children and their families which can lead to excitement, stress and dread, but at least it's a change we can predict and for which we can prepare. For students, they will be faced with, making new friends, seeing old friends or foes, processing new information taught by a new teacher, having less free time with earlier bed times and homework and duties to fill their days, balancing sports practice and competitions and on and on.
The demands are rigorous. If this feat of education is done well, it will require much from our burgeoning pupils and a whole lot from the parents as well.
While the father in the Staples commercial couldn't contain his back to school delight, his parental role will definitely be ratcheted up a notch when the school bell finally rings. While it's true that a new school year means parents will experience a short lived sense of calm, once the morning rush has come and gone and their child sets off on their day, not long thereafter, reality returns and a long "to do" list comes into focus, only now it's longer.
When children are back to school parents are back to being full throttle orchestrators. Parents coordinate their days around school drop off and pick up, homework help, dinner time, sports practice and critical down time just to listen and talk with their children about what's going on, work and household concerns. Parents have to make a plan of action for themselves and their family if this tightly packed schedule, that teeters on the brink of collapse with one false move, is going to work.
Consider this, a lot of your work will go in the plan to get it all done:
First, take a deep breath, exhale slowly and remind yourself, no convince yourself, you will get through this school year with flying colors. (perspective is key here particularly because your approach will effect their approach)
Second, talk with your children about what they are feeling and thinking about going back to school. Whatever comes out of that conversation should be addressed until you feel it's been resolved. Whether it's performance worries or social concerns, a parent's genuine interest and involvement can work to lessen the child's feelings of being left alone to figure it out.
Third, make a weekday and weekend schedule to include wake up time, target time to leave for school, after school free time, homework time, dinner time, extracurricular practice time and bedtime. This might sound a bit anal, but it can work to create at least a framework for continuity, predictability and less chaos in your home, making for a happier you. Post that schedule for all to see, so there's no confusion. It's your "Master Action Plan" and if it's in print it's more likely to be taken seriously and to be followed.
Fourth, plan dinner and bag lunch menus a week ahead, to cut down on last minute meal prep stress. This will also allow you to plan for more healthy options for your child's lunch. Healthier options are often perishable and need refrigeration, i.e., turkey cold cuts, chopped veggies, chilled fruits and salads. If you have a plan you can shop accordingly.
Finally, designate a quiet, organized and well lit table space where your child can do their homework. If you have to clear a space by sweeping the desk's cluttery contents off the side and into box, so be it. You'll get to that box during those 6 hours of peace when they are in school.
Going back to school is really a time for which children should be thankful.
Given a long summer break and the promise of learning, students in America can be reminded that the option to go to school should be celebrated as millions of children around the globe only hope to one day do the same.
Children need to know you have high expectations of their performance in school coupled with a strong confidence in them that they can do it. After all it is their choice to excel and a parent's role to support them ... after we take one quick spin down a store aisle singing our own happy tune.
That brings me to another thing. We'll get to that next time.
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