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9 tips to keep kids healthy and organized for their new school year

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Young shoppers are keeping Mother Earth in mind with back-to-school shopping, and so are retailers.
USA TODAY

 

For some parents, back-to-school time is the most wonderful time of the year. But it can also be hectic, demanding and downright exhausting — for you and your kids. Three Rochester-area experts — a professional organizer, a psychologist and a pediatrician — offer their tips to make the season as stress-free as possible.

Prepare early

There’s a reason retailers launch back-to-school sales in the middle of summer, and it’s not just about the bottom line. It’s because the earlier you prepare, the better off you’ll be.

 

“The groundwork of prepping for the new school year should really begin three to four weeks before school starts,” says Emily L. Gilbertson, a licensed psychologist in Pittsford who specializes in children, adolescents and young adults. “Waiting until the week before school to have kids start going to bed earlier, for example, can backfire as they are often anxious or excited and may have trouble falling asleep.”

To minimize stress, do some pre-planning and have a structure in place before school begins, suggests Lorraine Bohonos, a professional organizer who owns Home Free Organize in Rochester and works with many moms and families. “Anything that people can do beforehand to be prepared will prevent them from getting decision-making fatigue, which is the root of all clutter,” she says.

 

Sleep, eat, repeat

Kids should be getting eight to 10 hours of sleep per night, and parents should be consistent with bedtimes during the summer months, says Raissa Ong, M.D., of Newark Pediatrics, part of Rochester Regional Health.

If your children have enjoyed a lot of late nights this summer, get them back on their routine at least two to three weeks prior to school starting, she recommends. When it comes to screen time, think “two and two.” Limit it to two hours a day and no later than two hours before bedtime. Shut down the devices to give your child’s brain time to shut down and relax as well. Remember, kids who get adequate rest will be more focused, engaged and energetic.

 

Proper nutrition is important, too. Keep junk food and sugary drinks to a minimum. Set a good example at home by eating healthy foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables, and your kids will likely make healthier choices at school.

“If it’s not available at home, they won’t be looking for it,” says Dr. Ong. So moms, save that candy bar for your next solo car ride (and don’t forget to trash the evidence).

Jump-start the mind

Kids who haven’t exercised their brains as much as their bodies over the summer should get some practice before they head to the classroom.

“For kids who struggle with math or reading, if you haven’t kept those skills going through the summer, at least do it the last few weeks in August. This can help them start the year more confident in their skills,” Gilbertson says.

Consider reading one to two books a day to younger children and reviewing math problems for one hour a day to refresh developing minds, Dr. Ong suggests.

Also, identify a specific area of your home as the homework station and set it up ahead of time with supplies. This will help your children establish a consistent routine to complete their assignments.

Go with the flow

Getting out the door will be less stressful and taxing if there’s a straight path and not a crooked maze. Avoid the morning scavenger hunt by making your entryway a one-stop shop for daily necessities. “Each kid in the house should have a clearly defined area that belongs to them and know exactly where their coats and backpacks are hung,” explains Bohonos.

Visual cues can be helpful, especially for easily distracted kids. Bohonos suggests using signs or sticky notes to identify key after-school tasks. For example, Step 1: Hang backpack here; Step 2: Pull out papers; Step 3: Place lunchbox here. Put a sign in the garage for sporting equipment. For pre-readers, use numbers or pictures.

Doing this upfront work can take pressure off parents in the long run. “Kids will often take on more responsibilities if things are set up in a simplified, structured way,” Bohonos says.

Connect and calm

The school year is a time of change and transition for many kids. Talk to them about their fears so they’ll feel less anxious and better prepared to manage difficulties, advises Gilbertson.

“Teenagers who feel less connected with peers over the summer or anxious about who they will sit with at lunch, for example, can be encouraged to set up social plans with friends,” she suggests. “Or help them think through the worst thing that can happen: ‘They get to lunch and their friends’ table is full. What would they do?’ Oftentimes, kids realize they can handle fears that seem insurmountable at the time.”

Give it time

Parents should be mindful of their children’s mood and behavior, especially during the first few weeks when they are adjusting to new classes and surroundings.

“Expect that kids may show some distress,” explains Gilbertson. “Younger children may display regressive behavior. Teenagers may be more irritable or fall apart over small things. Check in with them and normalize the idea that adults also have difficulty with change.”

Use a specific example of a previous challenge they overcame to remind them that they are capable.

Or use the approach of Daniel Tiger, the PBS series inspired by Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. “Help them to label their feelings,” Gilbertson says. “Then see if you can talk through how to handle those feelings or work through conflicts. If kids are part of coming up with their coping plan, they may be more likely to buy into it.”

Put things in their place

If it feels like you’ve spent the summer putting your kids in their place, now is the time to transfer that to getting organized. The key is to have a place for everything and everything in its place.

Bohonos recommends establishing a command center in your home where all incoming papers land. A common location is the kitchen counter. Have a couple of paper trays: one for action items such as permission slips and calendar reminders, and another for homework. Designate a spot nearby to temporarily place artwork until you can sort it, hang it or store it. (And once the school year starts, act quickly to avoid the dreaded artwork pileup.) Decide who will place the papers — child or parent. Mom or Dad might take care of it for the younger ones, but older kids can do it themselves.

For items you need on a regular basis — class directories, bus passes and sports and activity calendars — use hanging file folders, labeled with each child’s name and stowed in an accompanying file box. Place it next to the paper trays or in an adjacent cupboard.

Bohonos also suggests buying one clear storage tote for school portraits and team photos — the more formal “keeper” mementos as opposed to casual snapshots. One tote should accommodate most families for the full 12 years of school and can easily be pulled out for the graduation party, she explains. Be sure to label the back of each photo with the date and your child’s name and grade.

Save your faves

A question that every parent struggles with in the early years, especially when trying to stave off hurt feelings in their kids: “What do I do with all this artwork?” The answer: Keep less and it’ll mean more.

“If you keep all of it, you’re never going to really enjoy any of it,” Bohonos says.

As with photos, label the back of each masterpiece with the date and your child’s name and grade. Purchase a storage bin (long enough to hold bigger pieces) or an art portfolio designed for oversized items. There are several apps that let you take snapshots of your mini Picasso’s handiwork for posterity and also create keepsakes like photo books, which take up much less space than all those handprint turkeys, paper bag puppets and pasta necklaces. Bohonos is a fan of the Artkive app.

Have a decision-making process in place about what you’ll save and what you’ll toss (when the kids aren’t looking). “Mentally preparing and having a game plan before school starts will help you stay on top of getting it done and not getting overwhelmed,” Bohonos says.

Lead the charge

Every family has unique needs, routines and personalities. Ultimately, you should do what works best for you. “Think of yourself as a manager of a business. Your business could be a laid-back business with only a few structures in place, or it can be tightly run and everyone has very clear responsibilities,” Bohonos says.

In the end, despite what your kids think, you’re the boss. Set up your family and home for success, and the back-to-school season might actually feel more like the most wonderful time of the year.

 

Article source: http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/lifestyle/2017/08/11/9-back-to-school-tips-better-health-and-organization/551896001/

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