6 tips for easing into the back-to-school routine
Jackie Dunham, CTVNews.ca
Published Thursday, September 1, 2016 6:00AM EDT
As the carefree days of summer come to an end, families across the country are readying themselves for the start of another school year. This means back-to-school shopping, rearranging schedules and creating new routines. Most students will need to wake up earlier than they did during the summer months; if they’re not prepared, this can be a tough adjustment to make. CTVNews.ca takes a look at the ways parents and their kids can ease the transition from vacation-mode to school-mode.
1. Start a new routine early:
Establishing a consistent routine is important for students at any age. For younger children who may be starting junior kindergarten for the first time, it is particularly important to create new sleeping habits before the school year starts. Sleep consultant, Alanna McGinn, told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday that going from napping once a day to a full day of class can be a big shift for young children.
She said it’s important for parents to focus on changing their kids’ bedtimes but not the amount of sleep they receive. Starting a routine of going to bed earlier and waking them up earlier is easier if families start a few days before school starts according to McGinn.
Kathryn Underwood, an associate professor in early childhood studies at Ryerson University, told CTVNews.ca that children need to play an active role in getting ready for the year. She said a lot of the time parents don’t want their kids to be stressed so they will make all of their lunches and set out their clothes for them. She said parents should encourage their kids to help with the chores to give them a sense of responsibility.
Laurie Ford, associate professor at the University of British Columbia's Institute for Early Education and Research, told CTVNews.ca that making a list of the new steps in the routine can also be useful. She said writing out steps in the morning, such as waking up, having a bath or brushing their teeth can provide a clear structure for the family.
"Don't have the first day of school be the first time that you sort all of that out,” she said.
As for teenagers, it’s a little trickier for parents to set a firm schedule for their older children. McGinn said the key to helping teenagers adapt to another school year is communication. She said teenagers should communicate what their sleep needs are to their parents so that everyone is on the same page.
2. Reduce anxiety:
Underwood said it is normal for students to be anxious when they begin something new and unknown, especially if it’s their first day or they’re starting a different school. She said parents should help their children push through the anxiety in an appropriate way.
“When something makes us nervous, one of the best ways to address that is to actually do it,” she said.
She also believes encouraging your child to find a friend they can talk to and stick with while they ease into their new surroundings can be helpful. Ford said that when kids go through a big change, such as starting a new school, it's a good idea to talk to them about their concerns in advance. She said coming up with a backup plan or a "cheat sheet" with a map, if they're afraid of getting lost for example, can really alleviate some anxiety.
Another way families can adjust to a new school routine is by taking stock of their technology usage at home. McGinn suggested that the entire family should “unplug” in the evenings before bedtime. She said parents need to be an example for their kids when it comes to limiting the time spent on cellphones, tablets and computers. McGinn encouraged using a family docking system.
“Within the home, choose a spot where everybody can charge (their devices) overnight,” she said. “It keeps everything organized, charged and out of their rooms (bedrooms).”
McGinn said families can use an alarm clock instead of a cellphone to wake up in the mornings.
For younger children, Underwood said it’s a good idea to encourage them to be off of screens for as long as they can because it becomes a lot harder to do that as they get older.
4. Create a proper sleep environment:
McGinn recommended creating an environment that is conducive to sleep in order to maintain a consistent bedtime routine. She said emulating a “cave-like setting” can be really helpful in limiting the time it takes for people to fall asleep.
“Making sure it’s nice and dark with blackout blinds, blackout panels,” she said. “Making sure it’s quiet. Maybe you want to incorporate a white noise machine or sound spa.”
She also suggested making sure the bedroom has cooler temperatures, clearing all the clutter and replacing the mattress every five years.
5. Prioritize sleep:
Underwood said one way to make it easier for children to adapt to their new bedtimes is if the whole family changes their nighttime routines with them. Even if the other family members aren’t going to school, they should still be thinking about their health and being well-rested.
McGinn said that parents should be sleep role models for their kids by prioritizing sleep and abiding by a consistent sleep schedule. She said that trying mindfulness techniques such as meditation, bedtime yoga, mindful breathing and mindful thinking can help adults adjust to an earlier bedtime.
6. Don’t compare yourself:
Lastly, Underwood said that parents shouldn’t compare themselves to other families and how they’re preparing their children for the upcoming school year.
“Comparing yourself is part of, what I think, creates anxiety,” she said.
She also said that parents shouldn’t compare their kids to other kids in the classroom because they all develop differently and at different stages. Instead, Underwood said they should focus on getting their children the right support they need at that time.