If you're like me, the end of August and return to school is bittersweet. You might mourn the carefree days of summer but relish getting your time back.
Making the transition back to school can be quite a change for kids and parents alike. Kids who've been sleeping in -- my teens can stay in bed till noon -- now have to get up at 6 a.m. again. Leisurely lunches eaten when hungry now require planning and packing. And homework? Yes, it's time to start that drill too.
But going back to school doesn't have to be a grueling task for you or your kids. We got some of our favorite bloggers to tell us how they solve the four biggest back-to-school challenges and make the transition a better experience for everyone.
City: Kinnelon, N.J.
City: Huntington, N.Y.
Book: Mean Moms Rule: Why Doing the Hard Stuff Now Creates Good Kids Later
Back to School Challenge No. 1: The Rude Awakening
After two months of going to bed and getting up whenever they want, kids need to get back on a schedule, one that often involves waking up early. How to you get them to do that?
Jen: "Two weeks before school starts, I move their bedtimes back by 15 to 30 minutes at a time until we reach something more school-friendly. Once school starts, their schedules generally make them tired enough to adjust quickly to an earlier bedtime."
Denise: "Parents worry too much about how to get kids back on track because they feel they have to negotiate with or wheedle or trick their kids. I just tell them straight up: This is the deal, kiddos. Parents should never take a school-age kid's word for it that they are ‘not tired.' If your kids are anything like mine, they go full-on until they go to sleep, so it's rare that they act tired. I have to decide for them that it's bedtime or they might just stay up too late. When I tell them it's lights out and they comply, guess what? They're asleep within minutes."
Back to School Challenge No. 2: The Morning Rush
For many families, the toughest hurdle is getting kids out the door on time. This is especially hard if you have to get ready for work as well.
Susan: "Call me a bad mother, but I bring my two girls -- ages 4 and 7 -- downstairs and let them watch a few minutes of TV while I make lunches, get their breakfast into them, dress them and do their hair."
Debbie: "The key is to get organized the night before, with backpacks ready, clothes laid out and lunch planned (if not made). It's important that the kids know what time they'll be woken by mom or the alarm, what time they're expected downstairs for breakfast and to get shoes on, and what time they'll leave the house."
Denise: "Rushing children, in my observation, never works. Instead, I give them times that things need to happen by, and these times are always the same. Say my son has to be out the door at 7:45 -- I prompt him to head upstairs for dressing and tooth-brushing at 7:30, no exceptions. He knows it, I know it and it happens. As with all things to do with parenting, consistency is the key to everything."
Back to School Challenge No. 3: Packing a Healthy Lunch
Sending kids to school with a nutritious lunch isn't always easy. Although school lunches are mandated to be healthier this year, many parents still prefer their kids bring food from home for financial and health reasons.
Jen: "We have a rule that they can't buy lunch more than twice a week. My teens make their own lunches, so I make sure there are good choices available, including lettuce, cooked pieces of chicken or turkey, quality cheeses that are actual cheese, and natural cold cuts that have no nitrates or nitrites, MSG or preservatives. I buy organic snacks, and I provide water or iced tea with no high fructose corn syrup."
Denise: "I pack milk in reusable plastic bottles, a sandwich (a rotating roster of PBJ, cream cheese and jelly, turkey or ham and cheese); some sort of fruit (grapes, berries, an apple, orange slices, or if I'm out of fresh fruit, applesauce or a juice-packed fruit cup) and a yogurt of some kind. Once or twice a week, I let them buy school lunch, which I'm not crazy about, but I get around my distaste by requiring that they take a fruit and drink milk."
Back to School Challenge No. 4: The Homework Grind
Toughest of all perhaps, is the return of homework, which can quickly bring on whining and tears (from both parents and kids!)
Denise: "Homework is one of those necessary pieces of the day, so I make it a rule that homework gets done first, no exceptions. So they get home, take off shoes, wash hands, maybe have a snack (but only if they ask!) and then it's down to work."
Jen: "I let them have some down time after school, so they don't feel overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught of work. Then I set a time they need to begin homework and a time they need to finish. If they want to take a break and play a game on the Wii or watch a 30-minute TV show in the middle of homework, I allow it, as long as they hit the time deadline."
Winnie Yu is Completely You's mom blogger. She has two daughters (Samantha, 14, and Annie, 12) and is the author of seven books, including New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding and What to Eat for What Ails You. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Woman's Day, AARP Bulletin, Prevention and WebMD.com.