Whether you have kids in kindergarten or college, a new school year is exciting. But it's also the beginning of a period defined by crazy, often conflicting schedules, homework, and extracurricular activities that are even more demanding than what you and your kids faced last year (and last year was hard enough, thanks.) To help minimize stress and maximize family time, try these new school-year resolutions.
We will eat together a few times a week. Sharing a meal is the best time for families to bond. "It really matters," says Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women and Families in Washington, D.C. She cites research that shows family meals -- and time spent with family during those meals -- impacts the choices kids make and whether or not they stay out of toruble. If you aren't able to sit down for a meal every day, try to at least share a snack, or even breakfast.
We will talk. Parents lament that their children never talk to them, but often that's because they're not asking very interesting questions. Or because all they do is ask questions, which can feel like badgering. Shift the pressure off them by sharing some details about your day. Make conversation cards (shown here) to share around the supper table. Questions can be anything. Just make sure your queries can't be answered by the words "yes," "no," "fine," or "whatever."
We will have better homework habits. If students sequester themselves in their rooms to concentrate on homework, that strategy can backfire, Zuckerman says, especially if they have too many distractions, such as TVs and video games in their rooms. Instead, institute quiet hours in the house and have children do their homework the old-fashioned way: at the kitchen or dining room table. Be sure to build a break time for a snack, a short evening walk, or to have the kids help you get ready for tomorrow morning.
We will become a night-before family. Mornings are hands-down the most chaotic time during the school day. Cut stress by working together the night before. List everything you and the kids could have ready for the next day -- tomorrow's clothes, lunches, shoes, coats -- and put them in place. Set aside a space by the door where you can each have a night-before bin (shown here).
We will know where everyone is and what the heck we're doing. Keeping track of schedules is a family responsibility -- not just Mom's. Buy a large family calendar at an office supply store and hang it by the door or the breakfast table. Give each member of the family a different-color pad of sticky notes to write down and post their needs on the calendar -- practice, rehearsal, getting a ride to the mall, going out with friends. Make updating it a part of your night-before ritual.
We will discuss money right now. Every family is different when it comes to figuring out what, if any, allowance will be paid out, and what children have to do around the house. "It avoids a lot of hassle later if you set clear guidelines right now about what expenses parents will cover," says Zuckerman. Even if kids don't have a regular allowance, she suggests having some kind of reward system in place. For instance, you might draw up a list of above-and-beyond chores -- washing the car, cleaning the bathroom, updating the color-coded calendar for dog or cat care -- that would earn kids a little extra pocket money.
We will actually get out of bed in time. Teens especially are at the absolute peak of their ability to sleep late. If you want them to concentrate in school, help them get at least 8 hours of sleep every night by having a strict and consistent bedtime on weeknights. In the morning, instead of going room to room with a police whistle, try a simpler approach, like changing their alarm clock. A clock that runs away might be a fun back-to-school gift. The Clocky alarm clock (shown here) has wheels that let it roll off a table and under the bed once it goes off, forcing kids to get up. $50 at nandahome.com.