This week on the podcast Statesman Shots, podcasts hosts Omar L. Gallaga and Tolly Moseley and I talked about heading back to school. You can find the podcast on the Statesmanshots blog and on iTunes and SoundCloud.
One of the key things we talked about was using back to school as a time to reset your life (whether you’re a parent or not). This is the time when you can set your priorities. Were things out of whack last year? Were you overscheduled? Take the time to evaluate how you want this year to be different.
That might mean:
1. Setting up designated homework zone and homework times. If the homework isn’t done by a designated end-time, go to bed and finish it in the morning. And, kids, let’s not put off homework until the last possible moment. It never ends well.
2. Really, truly stick to a bedtime to make getting up early easier. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends preschoolers get 11 to 12 hours a day, school-age kids get at least 10 hours a day and teens get nine to 10 hours a day. Mom and Day, you need seven to eight hours.
3. Prioritizing all of those extra curricular activities. Pick the one that your child feels is a must-do, and try to shed the others or make then an occasional fun thing.
4. Prioritize your commitments, Mom and Dad. If you overdid it on volunteer “opportunities” last year, pick the one thing you really love and shed the others.
5. Set up designated family time. That means you actually schedule it in the calendar. It’s sacred time that should be scheduled around.
6. Prioritize having meals as a family. It’s tough to do with all the homework and extra curriculars, but the research shows that this is one of those huge things that make a difference.
7. Get everyone in the family working together. Why should Mom and Dad be the only Sherpas, maids, cooks and pet caretakers? Yes, Mom and Dad will probably still get stuck with chauffeur duties, but get the kids involved in the other activities. Expect them to do chores and follow through.
8. Put down the screens. Half of teens say they are addicted to their cellphones. Choose quality over quantity and get screens out of the bedrooms. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours a day of screentime for children 2 and older and no screen time for the younger than 2 set.
We’ve written about the concept of Slow Parenting with local gurus Bernadette Noll, who wrote “Slow Family Living” and “Look at Us Now,” and Renée Peterson Trudeau, who wrote “Nurturing the Soul of Your Family.”
Trudeau gave us these back to school tips for a calm year a few years ago and they still ring true:
Identify what’s No. 1 for your family this fall. What values or new ways of being are most important to you in the upcoming months? Is it having calm mornings, eating dinner together, not overscheduling, having dedicated family time, a good homework routine, or a game plan for regular communication? Consider creating a vision board together around your shared values.
Set yourself up for success by enlisting a support team. What type of support do you and your family need to feel nourished and nurtured as you transition into the new season? Perhaps a parenting coach to support a special need, a new carpool team, a source for ready-made healthy meals, or a couple of backup baby-sitters for monthly dates with your partner? Line up support now and post your “support team” list in your kitchen where the whole family can see it.
Schedule replenishing nature respites. Being in nature elicits a relaxation response; it helps us shed worries and restore and replenish our bodies and minds like nothing else. Pull out your calendar and schedule some family hikes, a father/son camping trip, a visit to a country cabin over a holiday break, or a potluck in a state or city park with your neighbors or friends.
Do less to experience more. In our office, we love the mantra, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” A key cause of stress is ambition and trying to do too much. Researchers in the field of Positive Psychology say we’re happiest when we have fewer options and decisions to make. What can you say “no” to so that you can simplify your family’s life? Our quality of life is enhanced not by adding things, but by letting go of that which we don’t need.
Be mindful of technology. In a recent survey I did, families across the United States said overuse of media was the top culprit for derailing their family’s emotional well-being and sense of connectedness. Consider doing an informal family media use survey (include phones, computers, tablets, TV) and create some clear guidelines for how and when your kids can be online, play video games, or use other devices.
Decide how you’ll communicate as a family. Regular, open, heartfelt communication is key to people feeling heard, seen, safe, and secure, and knowing their ideas matter — especially when schedules are full. Some families have weekly communication meetings (post an agenda on the fridge and have your children add items to the list during the week), some parents have Sunday-evening planning meetings after the kids go to bed, and others adopt practices as simple as everyone sharing a “thumbs up and thumbs down” at dinner each night. Do what works for you.
Designate weekends for rest and relaxation (as best you can!). It’s easy to pack our weekends with errands, household cleaning, social activities, sports, and more — but remember that weekend time is sacred. The primary purpose of this 48-hour break is to rejuvenate and restore your energy reserves so you can return to work and school on Monday with a fresh, excited outlook—ready to learn and take on new projects. While spending the weekend in a hammock may be unrealistic, realize rest and relaxation are essential to problem solving, idea generation, and creativity. At least a portion of your weekend—and maybe all day Sunday—should be devoted to physical and emotional renewal.