Back-to-school time is here! TV ads show smiling cheerful kids giving their oh-so-relaxed parents peck on the cheek and running happily towards their school, while real-life kids are busy whining that they don’t want the summer to end and real-life parents are overwhelmed with all that needs to be done before the big day. So how DO you prepare for the stress that this period can bring with it? Here are few helpful tips that will help you breeze through it!
- Realize the summer ends in mid-August (if it’s later than that already, skip to point 2) – Ideally, you plan ahead and have plenty of time to buy school supplies, new shoes, clothes, etc. You can prepare your meals and school lunches in advance so you don’t scramble the night before. Same goes for outfits and pre-packed backpacks – it’s all very doable if you give yourself lots of time. Too late for that? Keep reading.
- Get quick and easy food options for the beginning of the year. – Planning ahead sounds great but what if it’s too late for that? Don’t beat yourself up. Just get your family’s frozen favourites from Costco or other fabulous “busy-parent’s best friend retailer” or order take out “to celebrate the new school year”. Celebration is always fun, isn’t it? Now, you can plan ahead for the rest of the year. Don’t sweat it. Move on.
- Find quick ways to shop for all essentials. – Going to multiple stores to pick up clothes, shoes, notebooks, backpacks, lunch snacks in addition to regular groceries sounds like something for which no parent would ever have enough time. It could take hours! Instead of doing that, order online. Your whole shopping will take about 15 minutes and it will be delivered straight to your door about 2-3 days later. Big online retailers such as Amazon or Walmart have everything from notebooks through toothpaste to cookies and coffee (don’t forget the coffee! ) and if you spend over a required minimum (usually between $25 and $50) the shipping is free. If you missed out on early back to school shopping do some early mid-year shopping in October – that’s when many stores have sales on school supplies. Buy some for the rest of the year, or even the following year and be done with it. Check and mate! You win again!
- Break down the big tasks – being confronted with a long to-do list is always daunting and overwhelming. It just is. It’s not you – it’s everybody. You wouldn’t climb a mountain by looking at its pinnacle all along the way because you could trip and fall and you would likely figure it’s too much work, anyway. Instead, you would do your research first, buy mountain-climbing gear, maybe get a few classes and prepare for the first step. Same logic applies here. Create a master to-do list with everything that needs to be done from trivia to the big stuff. Then, highlight the priorities and make a realistic plan for how you can achieve this. Realistic means that you think of how long it could actually take you to accomplish each task, think of what it entails and literally schedule it in your phone or agenda. Without a specific time frame it’s not a goal – it’s just a dream… or a nightmare. Be smart about it and set SMART goals (Specific – Measurable – Achievable – Realistic – Time-limitted). For example, “I will cook and freeze 2 lasagnas on Thursday night, from 7pm to 9pm” as opposed to “cook something and throw it in the freezer when I have the time”. See the difference? Let’s face it – the second one would never happen.
- Delegate – ask partner, grandparents or kids to help out. A lot of people seem to think that asking for help is only ok if you absolutely need it but that’s just not true. Asking others for help because you want it is perfectly fine. Respect your time so that others know to respect it too. Nobody said going back to school is just a one-parent-job. It doesn’t have to be. Kids can label their personal belongings and pack their backpacks in advance. Partners can cook, while you shop (or vice versa). Grandparents or other family members can help with the cooking or picking up some school supplies too. Depending on your family, they may feel special and proud to be involved. You know them best so make wise decisions about whom to ask for assistance.
- Establish a routine – from morning until night having a routine keeps everyone organized and increases the likelihood that most important tasks will get done. → Figure out how much time your family needs from the moment you get up until you are out the door. Then add 20 minutes. That’s how you know how to set your alarm. → Make an opening school bag ceremony every day after school to check what’s in there everyday (you may be surprised by what you find – “hello, last week’s apple core!”). Take out whatever homework you may have and set it up in a bin or on your kid’s desk. This way, you know right away what’s to come, it won’t get lost or forgotten, your kid is reminded of it and you can take a break for a snack together (much needed before the homework!). This is a great opportunity to talk about their day at school to let them know you’re there for them. → Figure out the evening routine as well. School-aged children need between 8 and 13 hours of sleep per night so make sure to subtract that from the time you set the alarm for and allow enough time for a bedtime routine (hugs, books, storytelling are all ok, but no electronics for at least an hour before sleep, as it could disrupt your kid’s ability to actually fall asleep). Ask your kids “How was your day? What was the best moment of your day today? What were some challenges? Was there anything you can be proud of? Is there anything exciting or stressful coming up for you?” These kinds of topics will get you and your kids closer and send a message that you really care and are open to whatever topics they may bring. This will pay off once they’re teenagers. You can’t expect an adolescent to open up if they haven’t done it since they were little. Bonus of having a bedtime routine – it prevents sleep problems and children who sleep well are less irritable, more able to concentrate and generally happier. It’s a win-win-win! Have the same kind of day plan for every school day so there are no arguments about when to do homework, no “hangry” kids throwing tantrums and everybody has an idea for what’s to come next.
- Help your kids with their stress. If you see that they are more withdrawn or more irritable talk to them. Try not to ask them too many questions right away but rather tell them what you remember about how you felt when it was the end of summer. For instance, you can tell them how it could be disappointing that the summer vacations are over or anxiety-provoking because, of course, nobody can tell the future and know exactly how things will turn out with their friends, teachers and the actual school work. Don’t forget to mention that despite your own apprehension before going back to school things have always turned out more or less ok and you’re sure it will be the case for them too. Telling children a compelling, truthful story about your real past fears, which names real emotions they may be feeling will help them open up to you and work through whatever might be bothering them.
- Figure out what will you do when they go back to school. Are you working as usual or picking up extra hours? Do you want to find a new job? Take some time to relax? Find a new hobby or grow as a person (gym, dance class or therapy, anyone?)? If you have no idea what you will be doing you may find yourself feeling a little anxious or on edge not knowing what to do with your day, especially if you were very busy with your kids every single day for the past months or years. This is a big transition for you too – prepare for it! Talk to a friend or journal about what it is that you would like to do if you feel uncertain. Don’t put yourself last. This can be a stressful transition for you, too, so be kind to yourself just as you would be kind to a good friend or your kid.
If none of the above tips seems to be enough to help you through this time and you feel overwhelmed, then perhaps your stress isn’t really about school at all and you may need a harder look at your own needs, wants and find new ways of coping with stress. If your usual coping strategies are no longer sufficient talk to a therapist and learn some new ones. Sometimes, just a session or two are enough to help you get a whole new bag of tricks to help you manage your stress and give you a brighter outlook on life.
Happy back to school time!