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Make Space For Back-To-School

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What feelings well up in your chest as the Back-To-School season approaches? My own feelings were often mixed; on one hand I could look forward to a much cleaner house with the kids away for most of the day, on the other I anticipated with dread the change in routine that set them spinning. Different kids are definitely different but in my house all 3 had something in common; a really hard time with transitions, and Back-To-School was a doozy.  They were used to staying up late on the long summer nights, sleepovers any day of the week and no matter how much we tried to lay down the law, lots of extra media time. Trading all of this freedom in for early mornings and homework was exciting to no one. And the kids were not the only ones dreading all the new workload; Back-To-School meant a lot more work for me as well. The Get Out of the House On Time scramble each morning was enough to drain my energy stores by 8am, before my day had even started in earnest.

It took me the better part of 14 years of Back-To-School seasons to crack the code of a successful transition. The secret is…rituals. Ritual is a fancy word for something pretty simple; a series of actions performed in a prescribed order. Creating a ritual is as easy as adding some attractive elements to an otherwise undesirable activity. You can employ rituals to tame school-year clutter, get bed time under control or find library books. Rituals are effective and applicable for almost all ages from the elementary through middle school kids and even us parents. Below are 3 of my favorite examples of Back-To-School rituals, the ones that can create a smooth transition from summer and take the sting out of the return to school. 


Getting out of the house on time with little kids dressed and fed is an enormous undertaking, requiring copious amounts of energy and patience. When my girls were small it was especially challenging for them to get dressed; they were as slow as molasses in January and prone to bicker as they shared a room. The ritual I introduced to get them moving and excited for the day was a Dance Party. They (or I) would select their outfits for the day and come running to my bedroom. They would pick from a number of pre-selected playlists and we’d turn up the volume. As soon as they were dressed they were allowed to dance their little hearts out on Mom & Dad’s bed, an activity not usually condoned in that specific venue. I would join in the dancing fun while I finished getting ready as well, often finding myself forgetting to worry about leaving on time as I surrendered myself to Lady Gaga or whoever we had tapped that morning as our muse. These parties lasted only 10 or 15 minutes but they accomplished 3 important things: getting everyone dressed & ready, having fun together and circumventing the early morning energy-drain.

Undesirable Activity: Getting Kids Dressed for School

Attractive Add-Ons: Music, Dancing, Forbidden Fruit (jumping on the bed)

Homework Habit Ritual

Homework sucks. From pulling crumpled worksheets out of backpacks to firing up the laptop, homework is the most dreaded aspect of the Back-To-School season for most kids (and a lot of parents as well!). Creating a ritual around Homework early helps establish study habits that will stick throughout the school year. My oldest daughter was diagnosed early with dyslexia and dysgraphia; she hated homework and could come up with a million excuses to put it off. Complicating matters further were all of her extra-curricular activities that made for an inconsistent afternoon/evening schedule. What we had to do to create a ritual that prepped the environment appropriately while adding a few positive associations into the mix. Since time for completing homework was not necessarily consistent from day to day due to sports and other commitments, it was important for the place to always be the same. Our kitchen table was my daughter’s spot. Next for the positive associations: food is perfect to use as an intro to Homework Time, but placing a reward like media and the back end is also very effective. Sandwiching undesirable (homework) between two slices of desirable (food and media) makes it a lot easier to swallow.
Undesirable Activity: Homework
Attractive Add-Ons: Food, Media Time

Weeknight Dinner Ritual

Who has time to cook dinner on weeknights during the school year, raise your hand! Kids, work and other demands on your time make it challenging to find the energy to cook dinner at the end of a long day. But because preparing healthy meals from whole foods is one of the best gifts to give yourself and your family why not create a ritual around it? Meal Planning is a powerful system to get you started and when it comes to the actual cooking there are many elements you can include in your ritual to make it enjoyable. One idea would be to savor a glass of your favorite wine while you cook, another would be to enlist the help of a spouse or capable kid, turning dinner prep into an opportunity to connect while getting the work done in half the time. My favorite reward for cooking is the food itself; when you are the cook you have control over the menu so pick things you like and reap the reward!

Undesirable Activity: Cooking Dinner

Attractive Add-On: Wine, Company and Good Food

What became clear to me over a decade plus of back-To-School seasons and working through it with dozens of clients is how transitions are actually opportunities to start new habits, and rituals pave the way for habit adoption. Using them to organize your kids’ time as well as your own makes a shift like Back-To-School a little less scary and a lot more fun. Whether you use one of these examples or develop your own, the key is to position the new ritual as something to look forward to as the transition time approaches. Start talking about it, playing up the fun parts and creating an atmosphere of anticipation. Before you know it the Back-To-School dread will dissipate and you’ll be left with fun new habits that enhance your family’s life together!

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