When that alarm goes off in the morning busy parents hit the ground running. Is everyone awake? Out of bed? Where are your glasses? Did you brush your teeth? Why do you only have one shoe?
With all there is to remember between the alarm and the first one out the door every morning, it’s no wonder many of us feel completely frazzled before the 8:00 AM bell rings!
1. Get organized
The morning commute to school was the last place I wanted to hear about permission slips, lunch money, or treats that were supposed to be sent to school THAT DAY, yet it was a recurrent theme until I realized lecturing my children on the merits of being responsible and organized was worthless unless I demonstrated those skills myself. No more last minute toast in the car on the way to school or digging through laundry piles to find something to wear. I had to commit to getting myself organized from the time I came home at the end of the day until we left the house the next morning. Once we started, I discovered organization takes very little time compared to the time suck that accompanies disorganization.
Set a time to go through backpacks each day to avoid late night or early morning surprises. You won’t be caught off guard on picture day and won’t be up all night constructing a scale model of the solar system from random materials you can scrounge in the cabinets.
Clean out lunchboxes as soon as you get home. Even younger children can be responsible for disposing of trash, putting utensils and dishes in the sink, returning ice packs to the freezer, and wiping out the bag. It may be helpful to have a few spare bags for those days when the lunchbox doesn’t come home or doesn’t get cleaned out (I would have said, “Too bad, so sad,” but realize packing may be the best option in many households). Pack lunches the night before, if possible and pre-package any items you can on Sunday night for the week ahead.
Hang school calendars and lunch menus in a central location.
Homework time should be structured. Allow each child a quiet work area free from distractions. Take a few minutes to review their work with them.
Take a few minutes each evening to organize for the next morning. Set out clothes and shoes. Return homework, notes, and supplies to backpacks. Store all necessary items in a central area ready to grab on the way out the door in the morning.
Use timers to help kids stay on task. Most jobs take much less time than children realize (and they spend more time procrastinating and arguing). Allow them to earn extra time outside, extended time with a favorite activity or increase bedtime by five minutes if they complete their homework and put all materials back where they belong. Use charts to help them track their progress. Charts can be adapted for homework, household chores, or personal hygiene.
2. Make time to relax
After a long day I long for a few minutes of quiet time. When our children were young this meant either shooing them out the door or to their rooms to play, or hiding in the bathroom for a few minutes. Just as adults need down time to decompress, so do children. Build relaxation time into their busy schedules to allow their bodies and brains time to recharge. While they may protest (or complain they are “too old”) many children enjoy the benefits of relaxation once it becomes part of their routine. Incorporate soft music, deep breathing exercises, progressive relaxation techniques, or yoga into your down time (there are many free apps available to assist with these activities if you’re not sure where to start).
Get adequate sleep at night. Sleep affects your brain function, as well as physical and mental health. While you are sleeping your brain is busy forming new pathways to help you learn. Being well-rested improves your mental focus, ability to make decisions, and solve problems. Lack of sleep can cause behavioral and emotional issues including impulsive behavior and depression.
Build quality family time into your week. Consider limiting extracurricular activities if your children are overwhelmed with demands. Start a tradition such as family game night to replace TV time (and limit other electronics use).
3. Eat balanced meals
Grandma always said, “You can’t raise kids on Coke and Pop Tarts.” Well, grandma was wrong…but I still wouldn’t advise it. I have never enjoyed cooking. I hate walking in the door after work and being hit with a chorus of, “what’s for dinner?” We ate out frequently when my husband was not home. Due to a busy schedule driving from gymnastics to soccer to piano lessons to confirmation to gymnastics…we ate in the van some nights. Not recommended.
Work with your family to create a weekly or monthly menu and take turns sharing the cooking (or cook together with younger children). Eat meals together around the table and take time to share about your day. You will learn so much about each other this way.
If the morning rush is difficult, check if your school offers a breakfast program and take advantage of it.
Keep a stash of snacks organized or pre-packaged in the fridge and pantry. Mixed nuts, trail mix, cheese, and yogurt are good sources of protein—essential for new cell growth and healthy neurotransmitters in the brain—add in fruits and veggies for a healthy snack.
Be sure your child drinks plenty of good old H2O. Your body depends on water to keep all its systems in good working order. Mild dehydrations can sap energy and lead to fatigue. Dehydration can also cause headaches, memory problems, poor concentration, as well as sleep issues, anger, and depression.
5. Be active
Just 20 minutes of physical activity, whether it’s an organized sport or tossing the ball at the park can improve memory function. As your heart rate increases, your brain gets more oxygen which assists with the growth of new brain cells. Get your kids outside every day for some physical play.
6. Talk to the teacher
You’d be surprised what teachers hear in the classroom and on the playground. When I was teaching I knew who was fishing without a license, whose mother was expecting a child before the announcement was public, and which father needed his back waxed before a trip to Hawaii.
While teachers don’t need to know all the details of your lives, take a proactive approach to dealing with concerns. If you’re concerned about a behavior your child is exhibiting or their performance in the classroom, make an appointment to meet with the teacher and discuss strategies. If your family is experiencing a change such as planning for a new baby or moving, or if you are going through a divorce or there has been a death, let the school staff know so they can watch for and assist with adjustment difficulties your child may have. The school counselor is an excellent resource for learning how to talk to your child about a change or for locating materials to learn more about how to cope.
Children should spend 20 to 30 minutes reading outside of school every day (15 minutes for beginning readers). Let them read something they choose and enjoy and allow them to choose from picture books, chapter books, magazines, and newspapers. Your children will be more inclined to read if they see you, and other family members, reading.
Dreading the six hour car trip to grandma’s for Thanksgiving? Make car time educational! Flash cards, journals, and audio books can help pass time while expanding their knowledge. Kids obsessed with movies in the car? Rent educational DVDs or download documentaries on electronic devices. Challenge them to see who can remember the most details about what they have watched. An old-fashioned game of I Spy is good for passing the miles as well.
Whether you try one or all of these tips (or—gasp!--none), here’s hoping you find a few moments of peace to start and end each day during this school year.
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