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How to Make Going Back to School Easier on the Whole Family

How to Make Going Back to School Easier on the Whole Family

Start the school year stress-free!

Before you know it, your child will be headed to school again. Will those first weeks back in class be a calm or hectic time for your family? Some easy back-to-school tips can make all the difference. Preparing for a new school year is pretty simple, but the sooner you start, the better off your child—and you—will be.

We asked parent coach Sheryl Ziegler, Psy.D., author of Mommy Burnout, and Fulvia Milite M.D., director of the White Plains Hospital Sleep Center and a specialist in pulmonary and sleep medicine, for expert back-to-school advice. Here, they share their tips on shopping for school supplies, helping kids transition to a school-year sleep schedule, making school mornings less rushed. Read on for a school-prep timeline that will make life easier all around.

4 Weeks Before School Starts

  • Set the stage for good sleep. “In the summer we all become lax about sleep schedules,” says Dr. Milite, but by midsummer it’s time to reestablish some structure. Make sure your child gets plenty of daytime exercise, limit video games and screen time, make bedtime no later than 10pm, and set a no-eating rule for 2-3 hours beforehand. Stick to a set wake-up time.
  • Check that your child’s immunizations are up to date. Also make sure that his medical forms are filed with school, and he’s lice-free.
  • Start shopping for school supplies and clothes. “At this point the selection is plentiful, the stores aren’t jam-packed, and the merchandise hasn’t been picked through,” Ziegler notes. “It’s actually a pleasant and fun process, more so than if you try shopping a week before school begins.”
  • Do an untimed dry run of a school morning. “When you arrive at the school, play on the playground if you’re allowed,” Dr. Ziegler says. “While you’re doing that, talk about what the school year might be like.”
  • Create a countdown calendar and mark off the days until school starts.

3 Weeks Before School Starts

  • Begin pushing back bedtime by 15 minutes per night, or reset it cold turkey to whatever time you’ll want your child to turn in on school nights. “A three- to five-year-old should sleep ten to thirteen hours a night,” Dr. Milite says. “A six- to twelve-year-old should be sleeping nine to twelve hours per night, and teenagers need eight to ten hours.”
  • Finish your summer bucket list. “This is the time to go fishing or get in that overnight camping trip,” Dr. Ziegler says.
  • Toss any unusable backpacks and school supplies from last year. While you’re at it, do a “summer cleaning,” decluttering your home.
  • Set up a designated area in your home where your child can do his homework. If you already have a homework spot, make sure it’s cleared off and well organized.
  • Install hooks where your child can hang knapsacks, coats, and other items. That way they’ll be easy to find during rushed mornings.

2 Weeks Before School Starts

  • Continue pushing back bedtime by 15 minutes a day (if you haven’t gone cold turkey) until the desired bedtime is achieved.
  • Establish a bedtime routine with no TV or electronics for an hour beforehand.
  • Have get-togethers with new classmates and old friends.
  • Host a school supply swap. It’s a great way to get some last-minute items without spending more money, and help your neighbors do the same.
  • Arrange carpools. Save yourself the last-minute scramble!

1 Week Before School Starts

  • Do a timed dry run of a school morning. Work out any kinks in the schedule.
  • Begin planning school lunches. Decide who will make them, and which days, if any, your child will buy lunch at school.
  • Attend meet-the-teacher events if there are any.
  • Find out the teacher’s policy on kids who are having a hard time separating, if your child is just starting school, Dr. Ziegler advises. Will you be allowed to stay a bit or do parents have to say goodbye at the door?

The Night Before School Starts

  • Allow up to 2 hours for your child to wind down before bedtime.
  • Make sure backpacks are packed and by the door. “Make it so your child has no worries,” Dr. Milite says.
  • Choose and set out school outfits. “Pick out clothes down to the accessories, and decide on hairstyles,” Dr. Ziegler says.


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Deborah Skolnik

Author: Deborah Skolnik, a graduate of Cornell University, lives in Westchester with her husband and two daughters, and enjoys writing, cooking, and gardening. See More

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