Refreshing Home Routines for the School Year
It’s Just Another Day.
Slipping Into Stockings,
Stepping Into Shoes,
Dipping In The Pockets Of Her Raincoat.
Ah, It’s Just Another Day. Du Du Du Du Du
It’s Just Another Day. Du Du Du Du Du
It’s Just Another Day.
– It’s Just Another Day, Paul McCartney
“Do we really have to go back again?” my groggy, incredulous seven-year-old said on the second morning of school. I could almost hear his thoughts. “I conquered the first day and it was exhausting. How can I possibly go back and do it again?” We all feel some form of that sentiment when people and surroundings are new and we haven’t yet found our “groove.” Teachers will be busy this time of year establishing routines. And there will be a routine for just about every single aspect of your child’s school day – from the order of subjects to transition times to getting a drink of water. And these structures are critical for success. Why? For the same reason that Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg wear roughly the same clothing every day. There’s predictability, security and the freeing up of brain power to focus on more important issues.
It seems that when a student starts the year in a window seat at the back of the bus, that’s the exact seat he’ll be found sitting in on the final day of school. And this is the time when those habits begin, for better or for worse. Parents can significantly contribute to their kids’ ability to focus on learning during the school day by creating and being consistent with home routines during the week. Whether it’s morning time preparing to go to school, engaging in after-school extracurriculars, doing homework, getting dinner or going to bed, all of those occasions can run smoothly or they can take a great amount of energy and stir up stress as power struggles occur. Some planning and preparation with your children can pave the way for ease with those daily transitions and allow for mental and emotional energy to be spent engaged in learning opportunities.
Before solidifying your routine, you may want to consider how complications will impact it down the road. Consider adding several layers of clothing to your morning routine in wintertime. Or think about group or long-term projects related to homework time. Thinking about how your routines will translate to the conditions in January and also in April can help you plan successful habits now.
It’s never too late to reinvigorate your routine by giving some thought to it and working collaboratively with family members to ensure that all are clear on their respective roles and responsibilities. Here are some ideas for helping to plan those conversations so that you can emerge with a routine that works for your family.
Discuss the routine with all involved when you are not in it. Find a time when family members can talk about how the morning will go or how and when homework will get accomplished. Have a snack and make it enjoyable. Ask, “What are the tasks that need to get accomplished during that time?” “What’s working well so far?” “What seems to be a challenge?” and finally, “What are some ideas for getting through the particular tasks that pose more of a challenge?” Be sure you allow the time and space for children to give their ideas and solutions. Use their solutions as much as is possible and offer choices. For example, “Would you prefer to get your homework done right after school or after dinner?” They will be more willing to uphold a routine they had a significant role in creating.
Formalize it! Write down your decisions for the routine with the simplest language as an agenda (1. wake up etc.). What’s the order of the bedtime routine? What time do you begin? What time are lights out? Have your children do the writing or illustrate your writing.
Review your plan and expectations constructively. Go over your agenda for the routine and expectations for cooperation among all. Consider all of the challenges you have including those January and April challenges and make certain you’ve brainstormed solutions to those issues. Do you need more time? What will we do to get it? Frame all challenge dialogue in constructive terms. Don’t fall into the blaming trap! Instead of “Joseph refuses to get his teeth brushed in the morning.”, focus your comments on the problem. You might say, “Getting teeth brushed seems to pose a challenge. What can help to move that task along?”
Post it. Hang up your routine in writing whether it’s on a regular 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper or on poster board. Post it in an area where you can quickly refer to it during the routine.
Reinforce. Before going into that routine, reinforce the conversation you’ve had to remind your children what the plan is. For example, “We talked about getting on shoes when the timer goes off. Let’s help each other remember.” For more on using a timer (instead of nagging), read “The Magic Timer.”
Remind. In the moment, remind in constructive and calm ways. With any age, a parent can fall into their own bad habit of repeating themselves in order to get a child to complete a task. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. The child becomes accustomed to the 5-10 times they are typically being told to do something so who needs to listen or move the first, second or even third time? Remind once in a highly effective manner and watch all go more smoothly. It may take a few times if it’s a change in their expectations. Bend down on their level. Make eye contact. Give your directions (one time only) such as, “Time to get shoes on.” Say it in a normal, calm tone of voice. And then, move on with your own preparations assuming the child will get their goal accomplished. Do not resort to repeating your directions. If it’s not happening after you’ve moved on with your own preparations (be sure to give enough time), then bend down again, at eye level and ask, “Do you need help with your shoes this morning? Let me know if you need support.” Then allot time if its needed to get the task accomplished.
Enlist all family members as “owners” and co-creators of the routine and then reinforce that notion each time you go through it with them. Show your confidence in your kids that they can accept responsibility for their portion of the routine as does each family member. Imagine routines that create a sense of safety and security for your children and run smoothly. This too can be your daily experience if you put in a little time and effort upfront. Beginning your day with hugs and a lack of stress from accomplishing the mundane tasks of getting ready can be a significant reward for all involved.
Originally published 9-23-15.