Get into back to school routines now, parenting experts say

Back to school is about more than planning lunches, getting into a sleep routine and buying new backpacks, say two Waterloo region experts. Now is a good time to lay the groundwork for better conversations with your children, they say.

Parents also need to remember to be easy on themselves, says Parenting Now manager

Students will soon head back to school. Two local parenting experts say now is a good time to include them in the process of getting back into routines. (Shutterstock)

The first day of school is quickly approaching and parenting experts say now is the time to get back into routines.

That includes sleep routines, showering in the morning, limiting screen time and even making sure younger children can open — and pack up — their own lunch boxes.

Diane McGregor is the manager of Parenting Now, a website run by KW Counselling Services. She says if parents haven't started easing back into a routine, now is a good time to start.

"We need to give our kids time to transition," she said.

She also recommends involving children in the process.

"Rather than just getting up one morning and announcing, 'OK guys it's two weeks until school. We're going to start going to bed half an hour early.' No proclamations. Let's start the engagement process. Get their investment in it, 'What's going to work? What do you think we need to do?,'" she said.

Barb Ward, the mental health lead at the Waterloo Region District School Board, agreed children need to be part of the conversation.

She advises taking time now to look back and assess how the last school year went. 

"Include your child's voice in this review of what works and didn't work and what you think you want to change," she said.

Anxiety around lunch

One area of stress for parents and younger students is lunches, McGregor says.

"The anxiety around preparing for lunches and kids eating lunches is really big," she said.

Through the Parenting Now website, there's a lot of talk about lunches: the best containers to use, reducing waste, how to organize them so their children are eating the healthy items first and what not to include due to allergies or other reasons.

"There's a lot of rules going into schools about what lunches can and can't be and that creates a lot of anxiety for kids, but it also creates anxiety for parents," McGregor said.

She said parents also tend to pack the lunches themselves, rather than having the children help, but many children want to have extra responsibilities.

"We just automatically tend to do it all ourselves. I don't know if we don't want to stress our kids out or if it's just easier to do it ourselves, but kids really need that sense of independence," she said.

Giving children responsibilities also applies to getting things ready the night before, like putting away backpacks and school supplies. That will lead to easier mornings where you can have better conversations, Ward says.

"Conversation on something different like, 'What are you most excited about today?' as opposed to, 'Where are my glasses?'" Ward said.

Lunch can be one of the most stressful parts of school, with parents worrying over what their children are eating and, with younger kids, whether they can even open their lunch box. (The Associated Press)

Ask questions 'with openness and curiosity'

McGregor said many kids worry this time of year and dread going back to school.

"Take the time to dig into that a little bit and find out why. Just ask with openness and curiosity, 'How come you don't want to go sweetie? Tell me about that,' and let them have some time to talk about what those anxieties are," she said.

Ward says back to school conversations are a great way to lay the groundwork for future conversations. 

"You might hear some things that you weren't aware of, like academic pressure they're putting on themselves or their peers," she said.

Parents shouldn't constantly reassure their children that everything will be OK or fix their problems, Ward said. 

"They need to struggle a little bit, and they need to come up with their own strategies," she said.

'There's still time'

Parents often want to give their children all the experiences their friends are having, Ward said. But having activities every night of the week and being over-scheduled doesn't help anyone.

"We're running these kids to 10, 12 different activities a week, and that's ridiculous for the kids and that's ridiculous for us to try and do that," she said.

In the end, McGregor says, don't be too hard on yourself.

"One of the biggest pieces that we're always encouraging our parents to be mindful of is to be easier on themselves," McGregor said.

"There's still time. And if your kids aren't ready, you still are going to send them off to school but maybe they'll be sleepy. Maybe they won't be quite ready but it's OK. It's a transition. It doesn't all happen on Sept. 3."

Listen to the interview with Diane McGregor on CBC's The Morning Edition: