It’s something that happens every year, and yet it always seems to catch even the most prepared parents off guard: back-to-school season. This year, if you’re determined to avoid painfully belabored bedtimes, stressful wake-up calls, and rushed drop-offs, you’ll want to try some new strategies to help not just your kid but your entire family survive the transition. Below, seven sure-fire ways to make sure everyone gets back to school in one piece.
Create a visible family calendar.
Regardless of what kind of synced digital calendaring system you use, even Google can’t beat a large slab of paper tacked up on the fridge. For co-parents, it’s handy to keep a hard-copy weekly calendar in an easy-to-spot, highly trafficked place as a definitive reminder of after-school activities and childcare schedules. For older elementary-school-aged kids, it helps teach responsibility in remembering what they have to do each day.
Resist screens of all types.
You might claim you only need five minutes to check your email before getting out of bed. Or maybe you have a habit of tuning into the morning news as background noise. But these are some of the most common distractions derailing adults’ mornings, especially those with kids. Do your best to put your phones away and keep laptops closed until everyone is ready for the day. Only after that should you consider scrolling through social media a reward for a job well done.
Fill up your freezer with slow-cooker meals.
Even the most efficient moms and dads have a hard time getting dinner on the table every weeknight. Prepare for the inevitable by spending one night prepping an inventory of freezer meals that you can call on when all else fails. Even better, choose freezable recipes that can be plopped right into your crockpot. If you know you won’t have time to cook something from scratch, you can let one of these simmer for hours on low before simply serving when everyone gets home for the day.
Slowly ease into a school-year schedule.
If you think you can wait to address your kids’ lax summer bedtimes until the last minute, you’re going to be in for a rough night—and morning—when the first day of school arrives. Instead, slowly adjust their nighttime routines and wake-up calls to each be a bit earlier over a several-week period. That way, their internal body clocks will adjust more naturally by the time the alarm goes off for real.
Do as much as possible the night before.
At the end of a long day, the last thing you want to do—especially after reading the 37th bedtime story of the evening—is get to work prepping for the next day. But you’ll be glad you set aside your kids’ clothes, cleaned out their backpacks, signed their permission slips, and packed their lunchboxes before heading to bed, instead of rushing around in the morning … when countless other tasks always seem to pop up out of nowhere.
Keep your schedule wide open.
The idea of having your kid in someone else’s care for a solid eight hours five days a week might make any busy parent jump at the opportunity to finally schedule all those long-delayed appointments. Still, it’s wise to give yourself a two-week buffer before adding doctor’s visits, haircuts, and oil changes—not to mention major work presentations or meetings, if you can help it—to your calendar. Not only is it nice to give yourself a much-needed break, but it’ll behoove parents to prepare for unexpected bumps and be available to their kids as they transition to a new class, grade, or building.
Cheat the clock.
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you still run late. Consider putting time definitively on your side. Set alarms up to let you know when there’s just five or ten minutes before it’s time to head out, or—if you need a more serious intervention—tweak all the clocks in your house ahead. Another handy trick is to figure out whatever time you need to leave and then make it a goal to leave, say, six minutes before that. Planning to get the kids to the bus stop by 7:24 means they’ll surely be there by 7:30. Why? It’s naturally easier to remember to stick to a specific number versus a general one.
Get your back-to-school survival guide here.