Break bad habits before kids go back to school

For many families, summer means a more relaxed schedule of later bedtimes and unscheduled days. But with the start of school in sight, it’s time to get kids on track and away from any bad habits they may have formed over the last few months.

Weeks of sleeping late, playing video games and eating more junk food than usual can wreak havoc on a child who suddenly needs to get up and at ’em in order to make the morning bell. Children, especially young ones, need routines to feel safe and not overwhelmed, especially when dealing with a big transition such as returning to school. Giving them time to adjust is key and a little preparation can make a world of difference. Here’s how:

Rachel Spector, MSW, has over 20 years’ experience in the field of early care and education. She currently oversees funding for early childhood development at The Children’s Trust.

  • Reinstate bedtime. When your kids are used to running around outside until dusk every night, shifting to a new world order can be hard for everyone – including parents. Which is why enforcing a strict bedtime is a good way to get back on schedule. To ease into the transition, start bedtime routines 10 minutes earlier each night and wake them up 10 minutes earlier, a week to 10 days before the start of school. And yes, that may mean adjusting your own sleep schedule.

  • Read. If you haven’t been as conscientious as you’d planned about making sure your child practices their reading over the summer, now’s the time to enact a daily book break. Take them to the library, set up a family book club or commit to an online campaign that encourages families to read together, like the Children’s Trust’s #Read30 program, to make it fun.

  • Get back to healthier eating. For lots of folks, our intake of chips, ice cream and cookies just seems to go up during the summer. If that’s been the case in your home, start swapping out those snacks for healthier options like fruit, frozen yogurt and cut veggies. This also means making breakfast a priority. Some easy picks: toast with peanut butter or cereal with fruit.

  • Pull out summer homework. Does your child have unfinished or forgotten suggested summer homework stashed away somewhere? Hunt it down, divide the work by the number of days you have left before school starts and get them going on it. Doing so will engage their brains and gently nudge them into a classroom mindset.

  • Do a closet cleanup. Make sure your kids have shoes that fit – if they’ve been wearing flip-slops all summer, you may not have noticed they’ve outgrown their shoes. You’ll also want to check that their uniforms fit as well, and get organized for back-to-school shopping.

  • Impose screen-time limits. Parents are often more lenient when it comes to kids’ TV and computer time when school is out; cut back on their electronics usage now so you don’t need to abruptly pull the plug later. This also means eliminating computer and TV viewing before bedtime.

  • Reconnect with classmates. Head off social anxiety, especially for little ones, by organizing a play date with some of your child’s classmates. It’s a fun and simple way to get them excited about the start of school.

  • Create a home zone. Designate a specific space in your home where school and school-related items can live, ideally near the door you use most frequently. It will discourage loose papers and stray items from being haphazardly left around the house and encourage kids to keep track of their own belongings. This “drop-off and pickup zone” also works for jackets, shoes and accessories.

  • Think about time. Depending on your child’s age, they may need help with the concept of time. And, as you know, when school starts time is of the essence. Help kids get back into the mode of knowing when they need to do something by providing reminder cues. So, for example, “It’s 10 minutes until we leave, please put your shoes on,” “It’s five minutes until we leave, go get your backpack organized,” etc.

Thoughtful tweaks to your family’s existing day-to-day will help all of you shift gears and get back to school with far less stress and strife.

Rachel Spector, MSW, has over 20 years’ experience in the field of early care and education; she currently oversees funding for early childhood development at The Children’s Trust. For more information, visit