Time To Get Organised for New School Year
Re-establishing Routines after the Long Hot Summer Keep Stress Levels Down
Re-establishing term time routines after the long summer holidays is one of the most challenging aspects of family life at this time of year.
Many children completely lose their normal sleep patterns, staying up as late as their parents and sleeping right into the morning. On warm days, meal times are often abandoned and children and adults alike eat when they are hungry.
And then there’s the potent mix of summer camps, day trips, long days indoors moving between television and computer games and playing with friends for hours. As the end of August looms, it’s often hard to imagine that routines can be re-established at all.
Áine Lynch, chief executive of the National Parents Council (Primary) says parents should already be re-establishing term time routines.
“Parents will know best how far off term time routines their children have gone and the best way to work back to that. The night before going back to school is too late, so gradually easing children back into routines, such as bed times and meal times is best,” she says.
Lynch suggests doing fun things that fit more into the routine of a school day than the lax summer timetable. For example, getting up early to go on a trip, planning a morning’s baking which requires everyone to be up early and ready to be involved, or going to the library to get some books out.
“Children need positive messages about going back to school, so discussing things like how nice it will be to see all their friends again, or to go into a new class or to have a new teacher helps – rather than giving them the subtle message that all the fun will end in a few weeks when they are back to school,” she says.
The National Parents Council has put up activities on its website (npc.ie) throughout the summer which offer families fun learning opportunities.
“Parents can look after over these activities and pick a few that will give children a chance to get their minds active again. It’s hard to get back into learning after the long summer break and children can lose so much ground.”
Regarding after-school activities, Lynch says it’s important to talk to children about what they’d like to do. “Some children have so much energy, they are dying to get back to routine and after-school activities but others will be exhausted by school,” says Lynch. “It’s always about striking a balance between structured activities and giving children opportunities to have down time and creative play.”
Working out rules together about how time will be managed once school starts again is important.
“Parents need to sit down with their children and negotiate rules around screen time and bed time. When you include children in the discussion, the transition is likely to be easier. Sometimes, when children are involved in rule-making and negotiating sanctions, they can be even stricter than their parents,” she says.
Parent mentor Sheila O’Malley sees back to school time as an opportunity for parents to get children to be more responsible for themselves. “You can teach them to prepare their lunches and get their clothes ready. If you think of it as ‘the morning begins the night before’, there’s less to do in the morning,” says O’Malley.
“The start of a new term is an opportunity to upskill the child. It takes time to show them how to do things like making their lunch but even young children can then make their own lunches for school. The more opportunities they have, the more capable and confident they become,” says O’Malley who has a range of parenting tips on her website practicalparenting.ie.
Lynch agrees. “Organisational skills are important and if children are involved in getting their clothes ready for school, deciding what to have for lunch and putting it in their school bag themselves from an early age, it helps them to become independent adults.”
Break it up
However, if as a parent, you find re-establishing term time routines extremely stressful, it’s best to break the day into smaller parts and not try to fix the whole day in one go. “Work out what’s the most stressful point in the day and pick that point and start working on that first and leave the rest,” says Lynch.
“If getting your children to school on time is your stressful point, consider what it would be like to get up 15 minutes earlier or have certain things prepared the night before or decide who does what jobs in the morning. The key is to step back out of the time it’s happening and engage everyone to try to solve the problem.”
Re-establishing routines for teenagers requires the same amount of attention from parents as re-establishing those for younger children, according to Helen Long, developmental neuropsychologist at Tallaght hospital, Dublin.
“Teenagers have to re-establish routines for sleep, diet, personal hygiene and socialisation,” says Long. “It’s all about the new demarcation between work time and down time, and most parents have rituals around buying school shoes, school books and covering or not-covering those school books which puts structure on the start of a new school year.”
Long says that, as a society, we are quite good at managing the transition from primary to secondary school and at the upper end of secondary school but we need to pay more attention to our 13-15 year olds.
“Some teenagers at this age can be just as anxious and worried about going back to school as four year olds who are starting primary school. We, as parents, need to give them the same amount of attention as younger children about getting to bed on time, not sleeping in late at the weekends and keeping them busy with what they want to do outside of school time.”