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Back-to-school doesn’t have to mean back-to-crazy

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

The back-to-school photos on Instagram are back. Kids are going off to school or preparing to do so, leaving stressed—or relieved—parents behind. Maybe you are stressed because this is the first time your child is going to kindergarten and you don’t know what to expect. Maybe you are relieved because all three of your elementary-age children have been home all summer complaining that they are “bored.”

No matter where you are on the spectrum this fall, here are a few tips for making this back-to-school season as smooth as possible, for the entire family.

Don’t parent out of fear.

I say this again and again: Do not parent out of fear. Parent proactively. So many decisions we make for our kids stem from fear rather than from strength.

We manipulate schedules to get our daughter the “right” first-grade teacher, scared that if she gets the “wrong” one, her year will be miserable. Or we make our 16-year-old hit the gym every morning in summer so that he’ll have a leg up when he tries out for varsity soccer. We can’t see him get cut from the team again.

Here’s the reality: Having the perfect first-grade teacher or making the varsity soccer team rarely guarantee your child will have a successful life. These are small things compared to the big ones, like how you show your child you love her and care for her.

I suggest that rather than pushing and prodding your young ones into places you feel they should be, give them breathing room. Your fear will not make their year better. It will just end up stressing them out, too.

Rather than pushing and prodding your young ones into places you feel they should be, give them breathing room. Your fear will not make their year better.

Prioritize sleep.

Nothing helps foster a positive attitude more than adequate rest. Like clockwork, parents haul exhausted first-graders and teens into my office starting in November. Many worry about leukemia, brain tumors or mono. These maladies are far rarer than a simple lack of sleep.

Don’t let this happen to your child. Rein in bedtime now, even if school hasn’t started for you yet. This will help your child establish a healthy sleep rhythm, which is essential because healthy hormone regulation depends on adequate sleep. Most kids fight sleep, so you need to help.

Follow these general guidelines when setting kids’ bedtimes:

  • Ages 5-6: 10-12 hours of sleep
  • Ages 7-12: 10-11 hours of sleep
  • Ages 13-18:  8-9 hours of sleep

Nothing helps foster a positive attitude more than adequate rest.

Savor the frenzy.

For all of you parents who got to buy pencils, five-subject notebooks and calculators this year, rejoice. You are the lucky ones. Forget about the bill or early mornings or parent-teacher conferences. The years that you do these things will come to an end too soon.

I still remember dropping off my youngest at college just a few years ago. As we drove the eight-hour trek, ate pretzels and drank Diet Coke, we talked about our 18 years together. I asked him the tough questions. What would he have done differently? What did he think I should have done differently? Had he really minded when I was away on work trips?

His answers were sobering. He might have played hockey instead of soccer or practiced drums more. And me? Perhaps he was in a sentimental mood, but he insisted that I hadn’t traumatized him too much. In his boyish curt mannerism, he said, “Mom, I loved my childhood.” When he said this, I burst into tears that flowed for 48 hours.

Parents, the back-to-school season is busy and will probably cause big emotions in your kids, which will then cause big emotions in you, but savor this time. For it will be over far too soon.

Back-to-school doesn’t have to mean back-to-crazy. Resist the urge to parent out of fear, make your kids (and yourself) get enough sleep each night and remember, soon the back-to-school seasons will be over. Savor each moment while you can.

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