For parents of school-age kids, back-to-school is the start of a very cramped calendar.
Gone are the freedoms of the summer. It’s time for meetings, appointments, homework help, sports carpools, and music lessons, not to mention the logistical nightmare of figuring out child care. Oh, and all the paperwork.
While your schedule won’t always go according to plan, there are steps you can take to tackle the calendar-induced anxiety that comes around this time of year. Below are six tips from local experts.
Even if you can only spare 30 minutes to an hour, taking some time to declutter and organize your physical space is a vital first step to alleviating stress that comes with a packed schedule, said Janet Bernstein, a certified professional organizer and the owner of the Wayne-based Organizing Professionals. Bernstein recommended starting with the mudroom, or whatever area of your home gets the most traffic and becomes the repository for coats, bags, and dirty shoes.
After purging what the kids don’t wear or use, Bernstein recommends having clear bins to separate clothing and supplies that each kid needs for school and activities. For example, one bin could be labeled “Matthew, soccer," so when his uniform and shin guards are laundered, you can toss them in the bin along with his cleats and mouth guard. That way, if he’s old enough, Matthew can pack his own soccer bag.
Before and after school are typically the most stressful times for parents, and you can get some help from your kids by giving them more responsibility in the mornings. Brandi Davis, a Philadelphia-area parenting coach, recommended that no matter how young your children, it can help to create a morning checklist with tasks your child checks off.
She said these checklists, which could be laminated so the children can use dry-erase markers, can include tasks like getting dressed, eating breakfast, clearing the table, brushing teeth, combing hair, checking schoolwork folders, and putting shoes on. Davis recommended avoiding a “prize” — it should feel like a responsibility — though the last task on the checklist could be playtime or “technology time” that the children can do only if they’ve completed everything else.
At the beginning of the start of the school year, consolidate your school, work, extracurricular and family schedules. Davis said that while it’s worthwhile to share Google Calendars with your partner, it’s helpful to also have a written family calendar (dry-erase boards are easy and can get kids involved) in a common area in the house that has color-coding so each family member can easily scan for his or her obligations.
Some families have taken organization tools home from the workplace and integrated communication and management platforms like Slack, Trello, and Jira into their households. You don’t have to do that — in fact, experts say trying to integrate too much technology that you’re not totally comfortable with could backfire. You’re less likely to use such a platform, leaving you without any management system at all.
As pathetic as it may feel, Davis said that if you find your family struggles to set aside time to do nothing together, schedule it in. Some of her clients even schedule time for young children, telling them they have 10 or 15 minutes to do whatever they want (usually away from a screen). She said this time should be non-negotiable.
Nicole Vitulli McNelis, a therapist in East Vincent, Chester County, who works frequently with mothers and is a mother of two, said she tells worried parents that the important thing is to take deep breaths and give yourself permission to feel the myriad emotions that come at this time of year, as they can “change by the minute or change by the day.” And like anything else, try not to sweat the small stuff.