Updated: Aug 8
Back to school is an exciting time for most kids—perhaps even more so this year. Fresh crayons, perfectly-sharpened pencils right out of the box, and seeing friends again after a long summer break are highly anticipated first-day perks. Transitioning to new routines can be stressful for kids (and for parents). Homework, extracurricular activities, earlier bedtimes and wake-up times can throw parents and kids for a loop. Add to that the heightened anxiety of ongoing covid-related challenges can make for some difficult moments for families.
Kids love routines and structure; they crave it! It helps them to feel safe and secure, to know what to expect and when to expect it. Predictability = safety. For kids from hard places, it is especially important to establish routines and consistent transitions that not only accomplish the goal of getting to school successfully but promoting security while doing it. Strong routines/transitions help prevent a sense of the unknown for kids. They help build confidence and support success not just at home, but at school too.
Here are some tips to help create and promote successful routines/transitions in your home.
Start with the end in mind
Sounds catchy, but it’s the concept of pre-teaching and preparing. It means being proactive instead of reactive. The preparation process the night before can help morning transitions immensely.
Let your child know the night before what the morning will look like.
Prepare as much as you can the night before and INCLUDE your child in this process. Have them help pack their lunch, load their backpack, set out their water bottle/mask, pick their clothes out.
Talk about what the morning will look like and include time frames.
Ask questions. Explore emotions associated with school. What are they excited about, what are they worried about?
Be sure to include a wind-down routine before bed that includes you as the parent.
Turn off tablets/phones/devices/TV at least 30 minutes before lights out. Many studies indicate that light emitted from devices keeps our brains ‘hyped up’ and throws our circadian rhythm out of whack.
Be sure your kids have enough sleep. Giving them a high-protein snack (peanut butter, string cheese, a slice of ham or turkey) can help with sleep.
Send your child off to sleepy town with character praise; this is not tied to behavior or anything the child did. It is simply affirming who they are! (ie: I love spending time with you, I like who you are, you are so kind/loving/thoughtful, etc.)
Countdowns can be helpful! Give a ten-minute, five-minute and two-minute notice so that your child knows a transition is coming.
Give yourself enough time. Nothing will ruin good transitions quicker than being rushed! Especially while you are establishing new routines, give plenty of time.
Consider picture prompts to help guide your child through all of the ‘must dos’ before they leave for school. This is extremely helpful for young kids who can’t read. A written checklist can be helpful for older kids.
Make it a game. Kids LOVE to compete! (ie: Can you get your socks and shoes on before I do?)
Praise, praise, praise. Kids are much more likely to repeat behaviors they receive praise for! (Adults are too!)
Avoid distractions. Use screen time as an incentive or better yet avoid it altogether in your morning routine. Statements like, “When you’re ready to walk out the door/completed everything on our checklist, you can have five minutes of screen time,” can help on particularly rough mornings.
Give some time to decompress after school. Some time to rest their brains and bodies can helpful.
Provide a healthy snack.
Establish homework time based on your family’s needs.
Eat family dinner together. Talk about pits (worst part) and peaks (best part) of the day. Also ask about emotions experienced throughout the day. How did you feel when your pit happened? How did you feel when your peak happened?
Get outside—fresh air is good for you! Go for a walk together or play outside. Large muscle movement is important for healthy brains and bodies.
Get ready for tomorrow. Pack lunches, get backpacks ready, shower/bath (if this isn’t part of the morning routine).
Talk about how the morning went. What worked? What didn’t? What can we improve for tomorrow?
In time, if you stick with it, your routine will get easier. Consistency is important. Find what works for your family. Talk with your kids about their perceptions of what works/what doesn’t. If there’s a glitch in your routine, have them help you come up with a solution. This helps promote critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Praise them when routines go well.
This article was originally published in August 2020 by Emily Frazier, LISW-S, former Clinical Director of our Children’s Residential Center. Helping our kids handle transitions can influence attitudes and experiences. We hope these tried-and-true tips in creating routines are helpful to you.