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Smoothing the Start of the School Year

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It's August... that means three, four, even five more weeks of summer vacation depending upon your child's first day of school. Summer time and the livin' is (still) easy!

Even though the reliability of the school year schedule actually makes life easier for most children and parents, getting back into the swing of things can be a real challenge. There are so many adjustments to be made from the more carefree summer life to the hurry-up-we're-going-to-be-late-school year.

A mindful transition from summer to the school year, done gradually and purposefully before school actually starts, will go a long way towards easing that transition.

Here are some tips for starting the school year off smoothly:

Mind your attitude. Not all children are excited about the start of school, but a positive attitude can be contagious. Instead of saying things like, "Your teacher won't allow that kind of behavior in school," try being positive by saying, "I know your teacher will be so excited to hear all about our trip to the mountains."

Help an older child get fired up about what he might learn this school year: "This is the year that you get to study astronomy. I can't wait for you to teach me which star is which."

Introduce your child's school night bedtime before school starts. School-age children need 9 to 11 hours of sleep, and while they get that during the summer, it usually starts later than is good for a school night. Seven days before the start of school, begin bedtime 15 minutes earlier. Each night, take it back a few more minutes, until you get to the desired bed time.

Your child should awaken naturally in the morning after she has the amount of sleep she needs. If she does not, you will need to adjust her bedtime earlier. She needs to become accustomed to getting up at the time that works for her and for you on school days.

Introduce your school night routine at the same time, a full week before the actual start of school. While you may have allowed TV or tech time before bed in the summer, it may not be a great way to get your child calm and ready for bed on a school night. Go back to your routine of bath/shower, books and tuck time. Get back to your low-key rituals that include an intimate bed time chat, downloading his day.

Adjust your morning routine. A week before school begins, introduce the school morning routine. A sure-fire way to start the morning out right -- without fights about clothing and the like -- is to follow this schedule:

1. Snuggle time (Hopefully even your older kids still crave it!)

2. Get dressed (Beginning at 4 years old, children choose their own clothing, hopefully laying their outfits out the night before.)

3. Eat breakfast, but only after your child is fully dressed. (If you are worried that he will get his school clothes dirty, throw on one of your old t-shirts over his clothes.)

4. Brush teeth.

5. Bonus time! (a few minutes on the computer, a quick game of Uno!)

Designate and make ready a homework place. For even the most reluctant child, there's nothing quite like new school supplies. (Remember?!) After you have shopped with your child, decide with him where he will do his homework. Not only should he have his notebook supplies, but also he can feather his homework nest. The more involved he is, the more willing he will be to settle down and get to work.

When the school year begins...

Create routines. Whether it's the way your child helps you make lunches, when and where he does his homework or when he does his chores, routines help the child to stay on track.

Have rules. Each family will have a different idea about TV during the week, computer and tech time, etc... Have a family meeting to discuss your ideas. Be sure to solicit your child's opinion, and compromise where you can. Children who are involved in the rule- making are more likely to stick to them.

Do as much as you can do the night before. Help your child lay out his clothes (if necessary); set the table for breakfast; make the lunches; put the grounds in the coffee maker; put trip slips, backpacks and anything that needs to go to school by the exit door.

Set your own alarm clock earlier. I know you'll hate this one and I am sorry. But hurrying is the enemy of children. Set your alarm clock 10 minutes earlier than you think you need. If you are not rushed, you will be more relaxed with your child. You will be just that much more available to your child, and he won't need to act out to get your attention. A chaotic, hurried atmosphere doesn't make for a great school day send off.

Overestimate your family's prep time. However long you think it will take everyone to get ready for school... double it! If there is extra time, spend it doing something fun, even unexpected with your child. It will help to start her day off happily, and it is much better than rushing her.

Eat breakfast together. Spending a little quality time at the breakfast table together (not reading the paper, not checking email, not focused on the food that is or isn't being eaten!), goes a long way toward filling your child's tank. His moments with you will stay with him throughout his whole day, reminding him that he belongs to a family who loves him.