Here in the northeast, we hold on to summer for dear life. The slightest hints of fall begin to appear and induce minor panic in many New Englanders. Although it’s only by minutes, the days are already growing shorter and signs that the change in seasons is near, starting with the surge of back to school ads flooding every television channel, radio station and webpage. But summer still lingers in the air which makes it hard to believe that the first day of school is right around the corner. The stress of preparing can take its toll. This can be especially true for grandparents raising their grandchildren who may feel like they’re new to parenting again. There is a feeling of added pressure when you’re already trying to redefine the relationship with your grandchild and trying to support a positive and accomplished school year. It can seem like kids are living in a completely different world these days, and in some ways they are. But the fundamentals have never really changed. So let’s get back to the basics when it comes to back-to-school.
Supplies– This time of year, office supply stores and other retail markets run big back to school sales to help families save on the ever-growing supply list. Checking your local newspaper for deals before you head out shopping can give you an idea of where you want to shop and how much you might spend. Circular ads often include additional coupons for added savings on top of sale prices. Although it may feel like just another chore, this is the part of the back to school transition that can be fun and creative. Going out to buy back to school supplies is something enjoyable you and your grandchild can do together. Take the supply list to the store with you and involve your grandchild in the process. Giving them some choices on colors and styles can boost excitement and anticipation for the first day of school.
Sleep Routines– The amount of sleep you get the night before can really determine the success of the day ahead, especially for children. Lack of quality sleep can lead to weakened immune systems, suffering attention spans, poor grades, and the all too familiar cranky-child-meltdown. It is recommended that children get between 9 and 11 hours of sleep per night. About a week before the first day of school, it can help to reintroduce an earlier bedtime routine. Heading off to bed just 15 minutes earlier each night can make for a smoother transition, often with less resistance than larger, more drastic changes. Waking up a bit earlier each day, too, can help to get kids back on track without overwhelming them. These routines, especially around bedtime can set kids up for a better night’s sleep leading to a less stressful morning.
Before and After School Routines– Summer vacation is a time for kids to be kids. Days are usually spent playing with friends, attending summer programs, maybe lazing around and relaxing. Most families fall away from their routines during the summer months and opt for a more laid back “anti-schedule”. As the first day of school approaches, it’s a good idea to start transitioning back to more of a structured agenda. Easing back into a routine can help kids readjust gradually. It’s also important to set up a routine around before school and after school tasks that works well for you and your grandchild. Designated times for things like homework, after school activities, free time and screen time will give kids a framework for their day; what they can expect but also, what’s expected of them.
Command Center/Homework Space – The amount of paper that kids bring home in their backpacks each day is enough to stress even the most organized parent or grandparent. Sports sign up forms, fundraiser flyers, picture day reminders, art class creations… These things can pile up quickly. Staying in the habit of going through backpacks daily, or even weekly, helps to stay up to date with important paperwork, notices and homework assignments. Having one central location for everything school related can help keep things neat, organized, and under control. You might want to keep a monthly calendar nearby, as well, to note important reminders and dates, maybe a hanging file for important papers and current assignments. This along with a clean, clutter-free work space for doing homework and other projects reduces distraction, creating a less stressful environment.
Exercise – Regular exercise is important for kids to build healthy bodies and self-care habits. It’s recommended that kids get at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. This can include extracurricular activities like team sports or just regular old play in the backyard or local playground. Physical exercise is important for building healthy muscles, bones and joints but also encourages strong interpersonal skills through relationships with friends and teammates. And the old “tire them out” saying definitely applies here. Daily physical exercise helps kids to burn off energy through a healthy life-long routine that also promotes healthy sleep habits.
Yearly Check Up – Schools almost always require up to date health records for new and returning students so it’s important that children have yearly physical exams. Visits with your grandchild’s pediatrician helps to monitor their physical, social and emotional health as they grow. At these wellness visits, the doctor will give appropriate vaccines, check your child’s progress on growth scales, and order bloodwork to screen for things like cholesterol and iron levels, among other things. The pediatrician will probably want to ask you some questions, as well, regarding your grandchild’s eating habits, sleep patterns, emotional and social behaviors and if you have any questions or concerns about their physical or emotional health.
Back to school season can feel like an overwhelming time for you and your grandchild. Focusing on these basics can help things feel a bit more manageable. The Family Caregiver Support Program at Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley can be a great resource for grandparents and other elders who are raising minor relatives. This year the program has partnered with Staples to provide gift cards to 12 “grandfamilies” this back to school season to help purchase the school supplies on their lists. Additional support was also provided through a backpack program organized by the Haverhill Breakfast Exchange Club, in partnership with Cradles to Crayons, that sponsored 100 backpacks full of necessities for children of Haverhill.
If you are a grandparent raising your grandchild and are looking for additional information and support, please contact The Family Caregiver Support Program at 978-683-7747.