Survive The Back-To-School Struggle (Without Sacrificing Your Sanity)

September is here again, signaling the beginning of a new school year for millions of children across the  country. While kids may dread the onslaught of homework that awaits them, many parents (including  me) are equally apprehensive contemplating the impending stress and strain that comes with getting  back into the morning routine. Though we begin each morning with the best of intentions, that  optimism is often lost in the frantic search for clean, relatively-coordinated clothing, the frenzied effort  to complete forgotten homework, and the adrenaline rush that comes from desperately ransacking the  kitchen in a last-ditch effort to compile something resembling a healthy lunch. Tears are shed, tempers  flare, there may even be some kicking and screaming–and the kids are upset, too! As we drive in to  work ten minutes late, we vow that tomorrow, things will be different. And then we repeat the cycle. I  say, Not This Year. Not Anymore. So, how do we tackle the back-to-school battle and emerge victorious?

Photo courtesy of tyhatch

Rule number one of a successful school year kickoff = Proper Prior Planning, aka PPP. You should lay a strong foundation before the year even begins in order to make the transition a smooth one. Before the  school year begins, purge the closets and dressers in your kids’ rooms. My son loathes trying on clothing,  but it is a necessary evil. Better to find out now that a late July growth spurt has turned all of his jeans  into capris, versus finding out five minutes before the bus comes on that first cool fall morning. Sorting  through and removing all of the outgrown, stained, torn, or otherwise not-cool-for-school clothing saves  you from searching through a packed closet in October and wondering aloud, “With all of these clothes,  why can’t you find anything to wear?”

Once the closet has been pared down, take note of any low-inventory areas and restock accordingly. Shorts and summer shirts will be on sale at this time, so it’s fairly painless to add a handful of each to  your child’s wardrobe to get them through until football weather sets in. However, unless you live in a  perpetually-warm locale, resist the urge to overbuy even if the shorts are 70% off; otherwise you run the  risk of packing away never-worn summer clothing in the fall only to find that your child has outgrown  them before the next spring. One sanity-saving tip: buy one more package of underwear and socks  per child than you actually think you need. I have noticed that clean socks are often the most precious  wardrobe commodity in our home, and having extras means you can avoid that last dash to the dryer as  the bus is pulling up the drive.

Photo courtesy of TheLawleys

Another piece of the PPP Puzzle is to ease back into the bedtime routine. Around the same time that  you overhaul the kids’ closets, it’s a good idea to start getting them to bed at their normal school- year bedtime. Those of you who keep your kids on the same sleep schedule all year long precisely  to avoid this battle may skip this section–then again if you are that organized you probably aren’t  reading this piece anyway. For the rest of us, the key is to ease into the transition. Start the bedtime  routine a few minutes earlier each night, or every other night, until your kids are going to bed when  they should be going to bed during the school year. Unless you have completely gone to a nocturnal  schedule all summer long, this transition should only take a week or two. As for the routine itself, it’s  called a bedtime ‘routine’ for a reason–kids crave the comfort and consistency that comes from having  an established, expected routine, even if they don’t consciously realize it. At our house the routine is  centered around the four Bs: bath, brush, books, bed. First, the kids take their baths or showers. Then, they brush their teeth. After that the kids can read books or listen to a chapter of an audio book before  going to bed, the fourth and final B. Whatever you do at your house just make it consistent so the  kids know what to expect. One last word of advice on the bedroom routine–start ten minutes earlier  than you think you need to start. Having a few spare minutes to read an extra book if you finish early  is far preferable to having to nix part of the routine because you got a late start or were delayed by an  unexpected phone call or other interruption.

Following the ‘never put off until tomorrow what you can do today’ idea, I have found that setting out  the next day’s clothing before bed is another sanity saver. This isn’t just for the kids–I set out my own  clothing, too. Again, it’s better to find out you need to wash a load of jeans or shirts at 9 p.m. than to  realize it thirty minutes before you need to head out in the morning. Plus it helps kids to get up in the  morning and get dressed independently if they know exactly what they are supposed to put on. It you  worry about stifling their creativity, let them help in the outfit selection process–although I will say  my son would put on just about anything I placed in front of him in the morning.  Last of all, if you pack  lunches for your kids, it’s a good idea to make those lunches before going to bed so you have one less  thing to deal with in the morning.

Speaking of morning, make sure you plan ahead there, too. The biggest thing I have found to help  minimize morning drama is to get up, shower, and get ready for work before waking up my children.  In the past I would set out breakfast, rouse the kids, and jump in the shower; unfortunately, I generally  emerged to find the breakfast uneaten and the clothing I laid out still sitting on the chair, the kids  lounging on the couch watching SpongeBob SquarePants. Being dressed and ready myself before waking  the kids means I can be more active in helping them prep for school–because it’s really hard to put on  makeup, put my daughter’s hair in a ponytail, and make my son’s toast all at the same time.

Photo courtesy of Fort Worth Squatch

If fostering more independence in your children is a goal for the new school year, try rearranging the  kitchen a bit. Put kid-friendly breakfast options (fruit, string cheese, yogurt, bagels, etc.) in the lower  section of your refrigerator, and put the cereal and bread in the lower cabinet where your child can  reach them. That way your kids can get their own breakfast put together in the mornings. It is still a  good idea to be available during this time in case they need some help, but it does allow them to make  some of their own choices, which kids really appreciate. If/when the time comes that you want your  children to pack their own lunches, put the lunch materials in the same low, easy-to-access areas.

Finally, set the goal of being ready ten minutes before you have to walk out the door. If you put out the  clothing the night before and check the backpacks the night before, there should be very little left to  do in the mornings. But it’s still good to allow a little extra time for unforeseen delays–for example,  yesterday my daughter decided that all of her shoes had become too big and/or too small overnight.  This led to a trying-on-shoe fest that left me feeling like that guy in Cinderella who has to try the shoe  on every girl in the kingdom to find the right one–except in my case, I was putting every shoe on my  daughter to find the one that fit. If not for the few extra minutes’ cushion in our schedule, that would  have thrown us off track and sent one (or both) of us to the car in tears, near meltdown. Best case  scenario? Everything gets done in a timely manner and then you can use that extra ten minutes to enjoy  a celebratory mug of coffee–though you may want to put it in a travel mug, because those minutes go  by faster than you think!