The end of summer ushers in a whole new season: going back to school! This is prime time for a refresh on your family’s organization, healthy eating, goal setting, sleep schedules, and more. Similar to the start of the new year in January, the start of the school year gives families a chance to envision what they want to achieve in the next nine months or so. With the right planning and support, this can be an exciting time for all members of the family.
That’s not to say everyone will be in agreement and it will be a seamless transition. As a single parent in the military, the start of the school year can be particularly stressful for your kids and may bring with it some major scheduling changes.
Here are some tactics that military fathers can employ to help your kids adjust to the new school year.
1. Discuss the Schedule
Sit down as a family and look ahead to everything on the agenda for the coming school year. Talk about things like extracurricular activities and important academic dates, such as exams and school holidays. List special events, like family vacations and upcoming deployments for parents.
If there is a custody schedule between parents, make sure that is clearly noted alongside school, work, and activities so your children have a sense of routine and stability. The point of this discussion is to get a big picture feel for what will happen in the coming year, so nothing catches your kids off guard and they have the opportunity to ask questions if necessary.
2. Outline Expectations
Tell your kids what you want them to accomplish in the coming school year. It’s important that these expectations focus more on actions than end results. For example, helping kids establish a consistent study and homework schedule is healthier than simply demanding good grades. Likewise, creating an action plan for improving athletic skills is more helpful than expecting your child to qualify for a certain sports team.
Perhaps more importantly, ask your kids what they want to accomplish for themselves. The beginning of a new school year is a great time to teach your children about setting their own internal expectations and goals. Have a discussion about what motivated your child to choose the goal they selected for this year, and encourage them to think about steps they can take to meet that goal.
This is also a good time to define each child’s role around the house as it relates to chores and housework. With each new academic year, your children may be ready to take on more responsibility at home.
3. Identify and Plan for Obstacles
What could stand in the way of your family’s productivity and happiness this school year? What challenges could interfere with your kids accomplishing what you’ve outlined for them or you mastering your personal goals? Maybe your family struggles with conflicting schedules or work responsibilities, or perhaps there are a few weeks each year when life is more stressful than normal.
Identify these potential issues up front and try to think of creative ways to address them. Sometimes even if nothing can be done to remove an obstacle, it just takes a bit of communication to work through it — for example, if you will be less available to your kids than normal because of work obligations, make sure they know ahead of time so they’re less likely to feel neglected.
4. Break Old Habits
If there are habits in your household that simply aren’t working, the start of the school year is a perfect time to change them. Some things to consider: Are your kids often tired in the morning? Are they eating enough fruits and vegetables? Do they seem emotionally healthy and well-adjusted?
You can leverage the clean slate of this season to set earlier bedtimes, plan healthier meals, and carve out more quality family time. The change in routine from summer to school year and its accompanying activities offer an ideal opportunity to switch out old habits for healthier ones.
5. Introduce Change Slowly
If there are changes to be added to the schedule, try to anticipate them in advance so you can roll them in slowly. For example, if your child joins the swim team and must now get up before sunrise on two days of the week, ease into this before the swimming season begins. Have her wake up early one day a week for a couple weeks toward the end of summer. You might have a special breakfast on those days, or do an enjoyable activity together. Then, increase to waking up early two days a week. By the time swim practice starts, she’ll likely have an easier time rising to get to practice in the mornings.
6. Practice Makes Perfect
Doing a few dry runs of the schedule is a good way to introduce change in a palatable way. These practice runs should include dinnertime, bedtime, and the updated morning routine. If your family’s summer has consisted of late nights and sleeping in, roll back bedtime by 30 minutes at a time until it aligns with where it needs to be when school starts.
It could also be helpful to practice laying out clothes the night before and packing lunches. If there is a way to practice any other part of the school routine in advance, put that into play in the weeks leading up to the first day of school.
It’s also smart to check for military discounts when back-to-school shopping rolls around. Many companies offer special pricing on everything from laptop computers to desks; these deals are for active or retired military members, so it pays to do a little research before spending.
Military kids are exposed to a lot of change and easing the stress of transitions is part of what military parents are called to do. Returning to school is one of those change-filled seasons, so remember to take some time now to help make this the best season yet for your family.
For more resources and helpful advice on single fatherhood, check out the Father’s Rights blog.