As quickly as the summer holidays arrived, they’re gone again and for parents, that means a return to the grind of the school-term routine.
As any parent of school-aged children will tell you, it’s a challenge filled with early mornings, arguments with non-complying kids and traffic chaos. Throw in pressures of your own work, and things get even more complicated.
According to research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), in 82% of couple families with children under 15 where both parents work, one or both parents always or often feel pressed for time, with one of the main reasons being trying balance work and family responsibilities.
This stress is contagious, with another study showing that children pick-up on behaviours that are modelled by their parents, which can lead to broader anxiety issues.
So to help you and your children cope with the battle of the school-term routine, particularly if you’re a working parent, here are six tips that will make your life easier as you get into the swing of the new school year.
Model positive behaviour
An often used statement in business and sport is ‘to lead by example’, but it’s just as relevant on the home front. According to prominent child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, one of the best ways to cope with the pressure of the school term routine is to model positive behaviour.
“Parents just need to model the physical enthusiasm that you want in your kids,” he said in an interview with Community News.
“I think the key is to be really interested and energetic — take a real interest in their subjects and an interest in their homework.”
By modelling positive behaviour, children will be more motivated to return to school making it easier to get them up, fed and out the door on time in the mornings. It’s a simple change that doesn’t take any extra time but can have a huge impact on your feelings of wellbeing.
Routine is key
Routine isn’t only important for young babies and toddlers, it’s just as important for school aged kids and teens. Research shows that children whose families stick to a routine are emotionally and socially more advanced.
So as you start the new school year, set in place a regular routine that your children know and understand. Include things such as set bedtimes, wake-up times and morning rituals, such as having breakfast and showers in a certain order and therefore similar times. At night, having this routine should give you more time to yourself.
Also, consider drawing up a morning checklist that your children can take ownership of and tick off items as they achieve them. Not only will your children feel more adjusted, but you’re also likely to make it out the door on time and with the minimum of fuss. This small change takes the responsibility off of you and puts more of it on your children, which will help with their development.
Prepare in advance
We know how it goes – you get home from work exhausted, prepare dinner for the kids, help them with their homework and get them into bed. Then all you want to do is slump on the couch and relax for the rest of the night. After all, you can pack lunchboxes, fix breakfast and iron clothes in the morning – they’re only small jobs right?
The problem is that a lot of small jobs combine to become a big problem in the morning, eating up time and creating unnecessary stress.
If possible, get prepared for the next day the night before. Prepare lunches and uniforms – you can even ready your kids’ breakfast in advance. You’ll be amazed how much a little preparation each night will ease your stress levels in the morning.
Extend your multi-task mindset
You are probably already a multi-task expert – you’re a parent after all. But extending this mindset to other daily tasks is a great way to find efficiencies in your day.
This will result in you feeling like you have more time and lessen your feelings of stress. For example, if you live close to school or work, you could use the school drop-off or commute to get in your daily exercise – a brisk walk, run or bike ride.
Alternatively, re-think your daily work commute to make it ‘me’ time. You could catch public transport instead of driving, and use the time to read a book or catch up on your favourite television show.
Another good tip is to create multiple meals at once, a few times a week, rather than cooking every night. Each time you cook, create meals that could double as school lunches and create extra that you can portion into lunchboxes for the week.
By reviewing where you spend your time each week, you may be able to find valuable efficiencies that will unlock more time.
Make time for yourself
Not long after school starts, you’ll be in the daily grind of school lunches, homework and stressful car rides, as well as dealing with the demands of your own job. In the midst of all of this, it’s important to set aside time for yourself to take care of your own mental health.
A good way to do this is to get-up in the morning before the children, and before things get manic with the pre-school rush. You could spend this time exercising, having a cup of tea or coffee, or to do a few jobs around the house. The important thing is to enjoy a slower pace and give your mind a break from thinking about what needs to be done next. Alternatively, built these breaks into your day to give your mind a rest. As we’ve suggested above, you could catch public transport to work and use the time read or simply sit in a park at lunch and zone out from the pressures of the day.
Likewise, make your weekends a time to regroup and for the family to have some stress-free downtime.
Limit extra-curricular activities
In the first few weeks of the school year or term, try to limit the amount of after hours extra curricular activities to enable the family to adjust to the faster pace of life. The transition into the school routine can be exhausting and both you and the kids need their down time.
According to experts, over-scheduling of time away from school can have detrimental outcomes for children, so it’s a good idea to think about your kids extra-curricular routine in general and manage it carefully.
Likewise, learn to say ‘no’ to unnecessary social commitments.