It’s August, and while many of you reading this may still have a few weeks of summer left to go, here in California, our school district is starting up the school year imminently. This means on top of working this week, I have a PTA meeting, a Girl Scout Troop leader meeting, and it’s already time to organize the school Book Fair, which takes place on the second week of school and that I agreed to run.
Okay—maybe my first piece of advice is just that you don’t have to volunteer for Every. Single. Thing. But truthfully, I like being super involved and staying very busy, and we don’t need to get into my coping mechanisms and how they include staying too active to have to think deeply about my problems (I’m kidding… or am I?)
That said, I still get stressed when thinking about all the schedule juggling and responsibilities that come with a new school year, as I’m sure many of us do. So I wanted to share a few things that I’ve found helpful, most of which I learned from parents who have been doing this much longer than I have.
- Keep It Chill: This is advice for the first couple weeks of school especially. Your entire household is dealing with transition and newness. As parents, we are getting into the swing of the drop off/pick up/childcare/sports/music/etc routine, and our kids have new teachers, new subjects, and new classrooms to contend with. You know how studies show that starting a new job is one of the top five most stressful life events? Well, a new year of school is essentially a new job, which comes with a whole new set of “colleagues” and a new “boss.” So give your kiddos a little extra grace. Yes, you’ve got to set up the routine and find the homework/sleep/chores schedule that works best for your family, but make sure you give them some time to chill and decompress. And maybe cut them a little slack if they are a bit volatile or cranky. A new school year is legitimately, psychologically, a BIG DEAL.
- Get Outside: This goes with back to school being an exciting time and a stressful time. Kids in school don’t get nearly enough outdoor recess time, and the benefits of being outdoors are HUGE: physically, emotionally, and even academically. Time outside in nature improves memory, cognitive flexibility, and attention control, while also elevating mood and being good for your physical health. I know we are all busy and this is difficult to swing, but if you can even manage a 20–30-minute family walk before or after dinner, the results will be good for you and your kid(s). It’s also a great time for them to have the opportunity to open up to you about their day without the distraction of screens, homework, or housework.
- Gameify Responsibilities: I’ll be honest, this works for adults, too. If my daughter needs to clean her room, it gets done a lot faster if I “race” her to see who can pick up and put away 50 items first, giving the winner some sort of mild prize. I have no affiliation with this, but I recently discovered an app called JOON that basically works like a Tamagotchi. My kid has a little virtual pet and I design “quests,” which are chores that she can do to earn coins to care for it. It’s deeply motivating. At first, this approach set off my ever-present mom-guilt. Is all this external motivation good? Until my therapist reminded me that I do the same thing. What about all those medals I enjoy giving myself for virtual marathons? I mean, even crossing off items on my to-do list feels great! So yes, your kids have responsibilities. You have responsibilities, but it’s okay to not make it a struggle or a fight. Bust out the sticker and reward charts—hell, make one for yourself, too. (Maybe you get that new pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing when you go through your itemized deductions?) Use an app, have family competitions, do whatever it takes to make things enjoyable.
- Have Something Fun to Look Forward To: Speaking of enjoyable, the school year comes with a ton of obligations, and everyone has a packed schedule, but it’s also really important to have things that are fun for your kid(s) to look forward to. That can be as simple as them pursuing a hobby that isn’t linked to school and/or a fun family trip coming in the future. It’s not just nice, it’s psychologically beneficial for you and your kids. So give them something to look forward to and if it is something that adds stress to your own life (a vacation for kids is often extra work for parents) make sure you have your own additional treat to anticipate as well.
- Screw Perfection: I want you to be set up for success. Sit down and make a plan for the upcoming year. What is your ideal schedule for the week? Do you have little labels and stickers and stamps to put your kids’ names on things more easily? Do you have a big family calendar? Do you have a set day of the week that you know you will order in or go out to eat to give yourself a break from menu planning? How much can you and your kids prep the night before for your days? Do you have something scheduled regularly that is just for YOU to de-stress? Make a list of the things that you are most stressed about and then see if there are any of those items that you can get rid of or somehow make easier. You don’t have to be perfect. If the house gets messy, or dinner is the quickest and easiest finger food you can find some nights, it will be okay. A less stressed-out parent who is more able to be present and happy is the thing your kids will remember and treasure the most. The rest of it is just a bonus.
So while there’s a lot coming up on all of our plates with the new school year, the biggest advice I have is, when things feel like a lot, take a deep breath and remember—you’ve got this.