Do you dread September’s frantic mornings, homework wars, forgotten lunches, and carpool conundrums? Life doesn’t have to be this way.
1. To chill and relax simultaneously.
2. To loosen or reduce the level of stress by employing a more relaxed and groovy outlook.
—From the Urban Dictionary
Here are six common back-to-school hassles and ways to solve them. Conquering them will help make life more positive and less stressed—and your kids more responsible.
Kids can be especially tough to awaken on a school day. But they should be responsible for getting up on their own. Buy simple alarm clocks for each child, and teach them to use them. That way you aren’t their personal Big Ben, and they learn that arriving on time at school is their job.
Oven timers are great for kids who procrastinate and daydream. When the timer dings, you’re in the car—whether your child is ready or not. It will only take arriving to school in pajamas or minus homework once for Timmy to be more motivated to get ready in the morning.
2. The great breakfast battle
If breakfast is a morning casualty, you need quick, healthful fixes that will satisfy your kids and your time crunch (and don’t include a drive-thru). Just make sure your family isn’t skipping a healthful breakfast. It sets the tone for the day.
Have your kids put bowls and cereal on the kitchen counter the night before. If you’re really rushed for time, instant oatmeal in a cup, a banana, and a juice box make a complete breakfast that can be eaten in the car. You can also stock your car with nutritious goodies like apples and trail mix. Stash extra protein or granola bars in backpacks for hunger cravings later on.
3. Manic mornings
How many mornings have you spent scavenging for car keys, a permission slip, or soccer cleats? If the answer is too many, get organized.
Put a catch-all box by the front door for items that go missing when you need them most. This way all those elusive extras—library books, baseball gloves, violins—are at hand and ready to go. Make extra sets of all your keys and hang them on a hook above the box.
If lost paperwork is a recurring problem, set a new policy: walk in, open your backpack, and put any notes or graded papers in a basket. Then you’ll need to check the basket nightly and tend to the contents. Return papers to backpacks for next-day delivery.
4. Scattered schedules
Managing your kids’ calendars can be overwhelming. So help kids organize themselves. Buy a large white marker board or laminated poster board and dry-erase markers to start a family schedule. Have each child fill in his weekly commitments on Sunday afternoon, using his assigned color. Emphasize that each person is responsible for knowing where he has to be each day.
Nobody has to be left out. Use photographs or drawings so even the youngest can track who’s doing what and when.
5. Carpool conundrums
Most parents spend hours driving to and from activities and waiting for each to end. And if you have more than one child, you’ve heard the complaining about waiting for a sibling’s practice to finish.
Use those hours productively. Make your vehicle a mini-office. For instance, hang a shoe sorter over the back seat. Stock it with toys, books, or tapes (rotate the stash periodically) so siblings stay entertained. A small ice chest filled with juice boxes and water—great after a long sports practice—doubles as a desk for homework on the go.
Fill a bin with school supplies and do homework while you wait. Cookie sheets make great lap desks; stash them under car seats. They’re also magnetic and can be used to play games or practice spelling.
6. Parental overload
Do you feel like a hamster on a wheel? That may be a sign to slow down. If you always rescue your kids, stop. Make them stop relying on you. After all, homework, sports gear, and library books are your kids’ responsibilities, not yours.
If you’re always there to bail them out, how can kids learn to manage for themselves? Delegate. Research says kids who do chores are more successful students and become more responsible adults.
If you say yes too easily, write “no” on an index card and tape it to your phone. If someone asks you to take on a task, say you’ll think about it and call back. The stall time lets you decide if you really want to do it.
If you’re stressed, hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign for a few minutes at the same time each night on your bedroom door, and institute a strict rule: no one may disturb you until you remove the sign.
Remember: A happier, more relaxed parent makes for happier, less-stressed kids.
Michele Borba, EdD, is an educational psychologist and mom. She’s the author of 22 books, including The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries (Jossey-Bass, September 2009); micheleborba.com.