The Back to School BUZZ is on and by now you’ve likely completed the school supply shopping list. If not, don’t worry! There’s still time. I love the excitement of this fresh time of year and providing our little Einsteins with the shiny new tools they need for a successful start. Unfortunately our efforts can get thwarted once the first school or daycare epidemic hits home, derailing our newly minted routines and enthusiasm. To help parents get an extra leg up, I’ve created this guide for ensuring not only a healthy emotional transition back to school, but for maintaining your family’s physical health throughout the year. We will help prepare you for those typical Fall snafus that can slowly defeat even the best preparation. You’ll find some quick tips for making mornings easier on both you and the kids, and what items are essential to have on hand before the next school bug comes knocking on your door.
Routine, Routine, Routine!
Evidence shows how necessary routine and schedules are for children. Regular bedtimes, meals and activity schedules provide kids with better emotional, cognitive and physical health outcomes later in life. Routines give children a sense of security and confidence in dealing with change and transition. Feeling secure and confident that they’ll get to watch their favorite show after school helps give them the discipline and emotional control they need to get dressed, brush their teeth and get out the door at 8am. Knowing the expectations of their environment, both at home and in school, affords children the opportunity to learn how to self-regulate, reducing behavior problems such as tantrums and aggression. Incidentally, the same applies to us as parents; establishing healthy, consistent and effective routines for ourselves gives us our own boost in self-control. We owe it to ourselves and our kids to set our own back to school goals this year for less yelling and more loving. That said, routines and schedules don’t necessarily need to be boring or involve military structure. Make them fun! And include your children in making them, they’re more likely to adhere to something they’ve created themselves.
You’ll find some tips on creating a successful Back to School routine for your family below. But don’t let all of your hard work get clobbered by Coxsackie or Fall allergies! Be sure to review our list of essential items for your home medical kit at the end. We’ve provided links to the items you’ll need to keep your family healthy and at their best through June.
But first, here’s what you can do to jumpstart your family’s emotional health and sanity, and establish more routine, and more peace, at home this Fall:
Communicate the Plan. Call a family meeting, bring popcorn and some poster board! Whether it’s just you and your partner, or the whole fam damily, including all participants in the creation of new routines will get everyone to buy-in. Let kids be the bosses (or think they are)! Ask your 2 year-old where you should keep the downstairs shoe basket. Have your 4 year-old identify four healthy after-school snack options to have on hand. Have your ten year-old decide when and how he’ll earn extra screen time for the weekends. Whatever your routine entails, make it a team effort and WRITE IT DOWN. A simple reference list in the kitchen is fine, though pictures really help smaller children process ideas. Or create a whiteboard checklist to engage the kids daily and keep track of their progress. Accountability is key and visual aids help children greatly in developing this personality trait – us too. For those families for whom routine is new, start simple. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Begin with one daily goal. Maybe it’s brushing your toddler’s teeth, or having your middle-schooler pack his own lunch. Whatever you start with, build on it. Celebrate your family’s successes, be open to changes, and slowly increase your challenges.
Nutrition. Make nutrition routine. Consistent healthy meals and snacks establish a healthy level of blood sugar to support your family’s ability to function! Whether it’s a full-on buffet at breakfast, or a granola bar and milk in the car, make it regular and consistent. And don’t forget the vitamins to help give everyone that extra boost. Our list below contains a few helpful items to help you out.
Sleep. Science has proven this over and over again – we all need sleep! The challenge lies more in negotiating our busy lives, getting it all in, and putting our foot down on that 3rd bedtime story. Further, parental guilt can impede supporting this vital tenet in that we often choose spending time with our children over gifting them rest. It can be a tough internal negotiation. Know the amount of sleep your child needs, make small changes and communicate routine changes well ahead of time. Create an environment that best supports sleep for your child whether it involves nightlights, noise machines, lovies, co-sleeping, bathing rituals, lullabies, or special clocks. Whatever it entails, create a sleep routine together, implement big changes slowly, and be patient.
Hygiene. It may sound obvious, but Incorporating hygiene into your family’s routine will help children develop good solid habits. Whether it’s hand washing after school, independent bathing or daily flossing, throw it in! These activities of daily living are already routine for us adults, but kids need the reinforcement. They don’t connect the benefits as easily as they are less tangible in the moment. But the more they get used to flossing daily and washing their hands before meals, the more automatic it will become.
Independence. Use your new routine as an opportunity to provide your children some much-desired independence! Routines will differ for family members depending on age so have your child help you develop his own schedule. Discuss the benefits of tasks and what the natural consequences might be when one is skipped or forgotten (ie. cavities, stinky feet, rumbly tummies, and loss of time for favorite activities). Once you’ve hashed out individual routines, ease your parental tasks by delegating some new independence to your kids! Let your 5 year-old shower herself. Allow your 3 year-old to clear the dinner table. Put your 8 year-old in charge of veggie-prep for dinner each night. Ask your children what new things they’d like to try doing themselves. You might be pleasantly surprised with what you they tell you! You may need to walk your child through each step of his new task for a while, allowing him some time to become confident in his new skill. Gradually, your assistance will be needed less and you’ll find yourself with a little extra time with which to dedicate elsewhere.
Screen Time, Homework and Enrichment. These activities vary amongst families but deserve acknowledgement when developing your family routine. Children fair better when their expectations are reasonably met; heading them off from the start will ensure that tasks get accomplished with less strife and disappointment. Whether it is math homework, piano practice or Octonauts, discuss the importance of these activities with your children and devise a plan together for fitting it all in. Identify which activities take priority and under what circumstances schedules might be changed or rearranged. Ask them for suggestions on how adjustments can be made and write it down. The written contract will come in handy when making your case for spelling words over Minecraft when needed.
Fun Time. Children need to see your family routine as a tool for living well and not a punishment or way to blame or shame them. Be sure to include items they feel are important to a healthy balanced life. Whether it’s a daily sing-a-long, weekend nature walk or monthly backward pajama night, add it in!
Lastly, while routine can do wonders for easing children into the school year, it is important to address additional concerns that can affect their health during this transition. It is essential that parents talk to their children, at all ages, about their thoughts and feelings on a regular basis. Inquire about worries, friendships, and their specific likes and dislikes at school and daycare. Help them identify problems when they are small and problem-solve together. Whether it’s biting in the toddler room, trouble with reading or the beginnings of bullying on the playground, offer your child a regularly available safe forum for discussion. Working through new and complex feelings can be overwhelming for a child’s immature neurological system and they need support and assistance in learning how to regulate their emotions. Give your child an early start on honing these skills to promote a healthy and emotionally-secure self in his future.
As promised, we’ve collected the Health Essentials for Back to School list below to ensure you are ready for whatever Fall plague may attempt to come your way. Your new routine is sure to reinforce immune systems with improved sleep, hygiene and family democracy. However, our essential household stock items below will further strengthen your fortress from cold-weather fronts like eczema, colds and stomach bugs. Don’t wait until you need it to realize you’re out of liquid ibuprofen, and stock up on your tried and true remedies for chapped lips now. You’ll feel prepared and you’ll be prepared. We all need to feel that good from time to time.
Autumn can bring much desired and beautiful weather changes, which can also mean eczema and allergy flairs, roseola and endless common colds. Pack your Amazon cart or grocery bags with these essentials now and you’ll be set to start the school year out right.
Bug Busters – Whether it’s croup or strep throat, arm yourself with these medicine cabinet basics. The most accurate temperature read is always rectal, but you can estimate decently under the armpit by adding one degree. Temporal and ear thermometers are fast, but can be pricey and often inconsistent in their reads. For tiny noses, saline drops and a good bulb syringe can do wonders for congestion. Place a pack of Boogie Wipes in the kitchen and car; add a tissue pack to each of your kid’s backpacks (next to the Purell). And have an affordable humidifier at the helm; these need to be sanitized fairly regularly so you’re best bet might be to go cheap and replace often.
- Inexpensive Versatile Thermometer
- Medicine Dropper/Dispensers
- Children’s Liquid Acetaminophen
- Infant Acetaminophen
- Infant Ibuprofen
- Children’s Ibuprofen
- Travel Tissue Pak
- Saline Drops
- Stuffy Nose Kit with Syringe
- Boogie Wipes
Hygiene Helpers – Personally, I’m not the best at staying on top of dental hygiene for my kids so I’ve placed an extra set of brushes, flossers and this delicious sugar- and dye-free toothpaste in our kitchen cabinet for morning convenience. I also have these little hand sanitizers attached everywhere – no Hand, Foot and Mouth for me this year, I hope.
- Self-Latching Travel Purell Pak
- Hello Fluoride Toothpaste
- Hello Fluoride-Free Toothpaste
- Extra Toothbrush Kit
- Easy Flossers
Tummy Aches – In the presence of your typical stomach ache, there’s not a lot Moms and Dads can do. These items can provide some good comfort and temporary relief for belly bothers like nerves, constipation and indigestion.
Skin Love – Cooler weather still requires an easy sunscreen option for sunny days. Additionally, I prepare for itchy dry skin flares, diaper rashes and chapped lips with my top choices below; stick a lip balm in your child’s nightstand, school bag and one in the center console of your car. Burt’s Bees is great for routine prevention but Carmex is my tried and true quick repair for fiery winter lips. Have an antifungal ointment like clotrimazole on hand for stubborn diaper rashes and itchy athlete’s toes throughout the season.
- CeraVe Mineral Sunscreen Stick
- Hydrocortisone Ointment
- Boudreaux’s Butt Paste
- Aveeno Eczema Therapy Lotion
- Burt’s Bees Lip Balm Pak
Immune Boosters — Not everyone does vitamins, but I love this non-gmo, allergen free, gummy option that has a selection of non-artificial ingredient varieties, including one with extra fiber. Also, think of what you can have on hand at home to make healthy snack options easy.
Now, get out there! Get those routines cracking and prepare your home for viral warfare! Keep an eye out for Nest Collaborative’s upcoming spotlight on how to identify the most common bugs of the season. Stay tuned, and be healthy.
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