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Ready, Set, Back to School!

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

The start of a new school year is both an exciting and hectic time in my family. My kids look forward to reuniting with friends and meeting new teachers, and I look forward to the predictability of the school-year routine. But the thought of getting up early, making lunches, keeping up with homework, coordinating carpools and after-school care, and trying to squeeze in quality family time makes me feel like we’re about to get back on a hamster wheel for the next nine months. Can anyone relate? This monthly column provides tips for anyone who is helping raise children, based on the world-renowned Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, available to families in Santa Cruz County. If you have a question or idea for a future column, email me at Dear Nicole, We’ve had a fun and busy summer, but now everyone is anxious about school starting again. My kids (7 and 12) are excited about seeing their friends, but they’re also nervous about homework, new teachers and higher expectations. And I’m dreading the hectic mornings and bedtime. It’s always worse at the beginning of the school year when everyone’s adjusting. Let’s just say there’s often yelling involved. How can we make this easier on ourselves? - Gary Dear Gary, You’re not alone! Making the transition from a relaxed summer schedule to the structured school routine is difficult for many families. For some children, getting support when they express mixed emotions about returning to school helps them settle back into the structure. For other children, having time to gradually ease back into school-year routines helps settle their emotions. Here are a few tips to try in your family: Ask, listen and problem-solve. Children often “act out” or misbehave when they feel anxious or stressed. If this happens, take a deep breath to help yourself stay calm. Ask your kids to say one thing they’re looking forward to about school and one thing they feel nervous about. Show enthusiasm for the positive things and listen to their worries or fears. Acknowledge that it’s common for kids to have mixed feelings about returning to school, then ask what might help them feel less anxious or more confident. Try to hold off on offering your solutions until your kids ask for help so that they can practice valuable problem-solving skills. Re-establish the morning routine. Having predictable routines takes the guesswork out of getting ready for school, which helps reduce everyone’s stress. Talk with your kids about the steps to get ready for school – get up, eat breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed, etc. Have them write or draw the steps of their routine, including the times to wake up and leave for school. If they’ve been sleeping in during the summer, have them get up a little earlier each morning and go through their routine, beginning at least a few days before school starts. Prompt them to look at their routines each morning to stay on track, then give descriptive praise when they follow the steps of their routines independently – “Thank you for getting yourself up on time. That helps the mornings go smoothly.” Revisit the homework routine. Agree on a timeframe and designate a place where your kids will do their homework. Discuss any family rules about completing homework before having screen time, or whether music or other electronics can be on while doing homework. Plan to check in periodically with your kids as they’re doing homework to give them encouragement for their efforts and progress. Re-establish the evening routine. This can be difficult, especially if your kids had a later bedtime during the summer. Prepare your children by talking with them about their weeknight bedtime and the steps of their evening routine – brush teeth, pajamas, read, hugs/cuddles, etc. If they’ve been staying up late during the summer, have them start their evening routine a little earlier each night, beginning at least a few nights before school starts. Identify things your kids can do in the evenings to make the mornings less chaotic and rushed, such as setting out clothes, packing backpacks or even preparing their own lunches. These are all great organizational and life skills that they will use for many years to come. Final Thoughts: The transition from summer to school can be difficult for families, even if children love learning and school life. Preparing children for the transition will help everyone adjust to the increased levels of activity, structure and expectations, which will help kids have a positive attitude and learning experience throughout the year. Nicole Young is the mother of two children, ages 11 and 15, who also manages Santa Cruz County's Triple P - Positive Parenting Program. Scientifically proven, Triple P is made available locally by First 5 Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency (Mental Health Services Act) and the Santa Cruz County Human Services Department. For more information on Triple P classes and one-on-one sessions for parents, visit, or contact First 5 Santa Cruz County at 465-2217 or

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