School Routines: Morning, Afternoon, and Bedtime
It's crunch time.
Whether your kids begin school next week or next month, it's time to start making the transition to a school routine.
When parents have routines and systems in place, everything seems to go a lot more smoothly. Mornings are relaxed. Homework gets done. Kids go to bed at a reasonable time (and stay there).
Sound like Fantasyland?
It really exists, my friend. But it takes leadership, consistency, and follow through on your part. Initially, establishing routines can be difficult — especially if there's been little structure in your home up to this point. In fact, it might even be harder for you than for your kids because you're the one who's going to do most of the work upfront. But as time goes on and your family settles into the routine, it'll run like a well-oiled machine.
You may be wondering, “How in the world are we going to get up so early when all summer we've been sleeping in?”
And you're probably not going to like the answer. You'll need to start waking up earlier and earlier each day (and going to sleep earlier, too) from now until school starts. Just keep moving bedtime up by 10 minutes a day until you reach your desired bedtime. For more about bedtime routines and how much sleep your child requires, read Do You Make This Routine Mistake With Your Kids?
Preparation for the morning routine actually starts the night before. For a long time, I resisted getting things ready the night before. 1) I'm a huge procrastinator and 2) I just wanted to unwind at night and read a book.
But when I started making lunches, putting everything by the back door, and setting the table for breakfast the night before, there was no denying that I felt calmer and less stressed in the morning.
As I mentioned in last week's post on back to school organizing, having clothes laid out the night before also reduces morning drama and promotes kids' independence.
Next, I recommend using a WHEN-THEN approach. Make a list of all the things that must get done in the mornings. For example:
- Brush teeth
- Get dressed
- Brush hair
- Make the bed
- Eat breakfast
For younger kids, you can make a list with pictures on it. Making the list puts kids in charge of getting ready and eliminates the need for you to nag and remind.
Tell your child that when everything on the list is done — and there's still time before you have to leave the house — then they may:
- Watch TV
- Draw a picture
- Read a book
Be sure that the activity is actually something they want to do. Otherwise, they won't be motivated to do what they have to do.
Some kids need several reminders about what time you're leaving the house. Give 15-, 10-, and 5-minute warnings. Maybe add a little buffer of time by telling them you're leaving 5 minutes earlier than you actually are.
Also, let your child know ahead of time what the consequence will be if they're not ready on time. For example, if you let your child watch TV that morning and he refused to turn it off, the consequence would be no TV the following morning. Then, no matter how much he whines, begs, and pleads the next morning — no TV! Even if it's more convenient for you to let him watch – don't do it!
After a long day of sitting, learning, and following rules, kids tend to “let it all hang out” as soon as they reunite with you. Expect this. Understand that it's normal and don't take it personally. I'm not suggesting that you accept rudeness, disrespect, or aggression. But when you're calm and non-reactive, you can parent so much more effectively and re-connect with your child.
I know many parents who take their kids to extra-curricular activities every day after school. Since my kids get out of school at 3:15 p.m., it's already close to 4 p.m. by the time we get home. So we typically go straight home after school and follow our afternoon and bedtime routines. Children who get out of school earlier obviously have more time to do other things, but I caution parents who try to do too much and “over schedule” their kids. Unstructured play time is crucial, especially for kids under 12.
Go to a park and let them run around. Plan a play date with a friend. Or just go home and eat a snack before homework time. Kids need a small break after school and they need to re-connect with you, too. Sit with them while they eat their snack. Put aside distractions. Ask specific questions about their day. Instead of, “How was your day?” try “Who did you sit with during lunch?” or “What happened today that made you laugh?”
The more attention you give to your child during this time, the less they'll require during homework time or bedtime.
Some tips for homework time:
- Choose a place for your child to do homework that's free of distractions.
- Use the WHEN-THEN method to let her know that when her homework is done (and you've seen it), then she may play, watch TV, etc.
- Use a timer to let her work in 20-minute increments and have some breaks, if needed.
I wrote an entire post dedicated to the bedtime routine and it's my second most popular post to date. You can read it here: Do You Make This Routine Mistake With Your Kids?
I hope I haven't inundated you with too much information. The idea, of course, is to help you get organized and lessen overwhelm and stress.
In the comments below, let me know what was most helpful. What part of establishing a routine do you still have questions about? What do you think will be the most challenging part of getting into the school routine for you?
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