Whether you are home for virtual school or sending the kids off with a mask and hand sanitizer, back to school looks different this year. While we are not rushing to the stores for back to school shopping like most Augusts, the re-setting of routines remains a priority.
Considering life hasn’t been “normal” since March, we may need a BIG reset. With family time now meaning spending 100% of your time with the kids, try creating a democratic environment and have your kids weigh-in on a new set of parameters for a school year routine.
Here’s how things went in my house…
Please consider this while reading these tips: give yourself some grace. If you plan to serve healthy meals and snacks and set a schedule for when to eat, the rest is up to your kids. Model by example by building a balanced plate for yourself, but know that the rest is up to the kiddos. If the pandemic has taught us nothing else, it’s to realize how little control we really have.
For a more tangible tip, get the kids involved. Have them each pick a dinner once per week, and possibly one they can help with. In my house, my kids have some power over snacks – they pick the snack, but they know it needs to contain a fruit or veggie as a component.
Give the kids freedom. While working from home, my kids needed to become a lot more independent. We’ve had lessons on using the microwave, climbing counters and using stools to reach dishes, and putting clean silverware away. Popping their own popcorn has led to finding their own recipes and making breakfast bars, cookies, and lots of varieties of slime. Now that they’ve learned how to read a recipe for chocolate chip cookies, they can conquer most other recipes. You too can open this Utopian world by allowing some experimenting and accepting some (or a lot) of mess.
Have a bedtime. That’s it. That’s the tip.
The first few weeks of the pandemic, we let bedtime slide. The kids made up for the later bedtime by sleeping in, but this Mama neither slept in nor had any alone time. I quickly realized everyone benefited from me having alone time, so bedtime was quickly reinstated. This helped our whole family’s sleep health.
It’s time to get back on a school sleep schedule with enough time for getting ready and commuting to school or logging into the virtual classroom. My 5 and 8-year-old’s are well-versed on the importance of sleep for growing and getting energy. With the school year looming, I shared that we needed to move bedtime up, and I let them decide what time they wanted. Guess what? They chose the same time I would have! We followed a similar pattern with waking up, and my 8-year-old helped work backwards by reviewing her morning routine to identify a wake-up time.
As September comes and we are building new routines, if physical activity wasn’t part of everyday life, now is not a bad time to build it in. Easing into our lunchtime walks, you would have thought we killed their cat, but by now, they know there will be physical activity at lunch and they get to pick – walks, scooters, or bikes. Having a fun destination can sometimes ease the burden for all: a field for some soccer or obstacle courses, picking up lunch, or a curbside errand.
“More screens please.” Can you imagine this pandemic 20+ years ago before high speed internet and kid-approved, semi-educational apps?! I don’t want to go down that dark path. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a great interactive family screen time charter to explore which can help you build in body movement screen time activities with the buy-in of the kids. Favorites in our house include Go Noodle, PE Joe, Cosmic Yoga, and Glenn Higgins. My older kiddo is a fan of KidsBopKids dances and yoga cards. There are virtual run groups, Taekwondo and other organized adolescent classes to take advantage of.
Every week brings new challenges and more unknown. This is a hard category for me to give advice on as my stress levels have absolutely been a roller coaster. One thing that has stayed consistent is building in workout time, typically early in the morning so it is never invaded by the kids. Building in other alone time has also been, as mentioned above, pivotal albeit extremely difficult. Where do we go and what can we do to be alone? Fitting in video calls with friends and family across the country have been meaningful, as have planning at-home date nights with the hubby.
Whether they admit it or not, kids flourish with routine. Even if the routine has flexibility, it creates more “known” in this world of unknown. In my house, everyone benefits when we have something on the books to look forward to – Friday night movie night, Saturday ice cream dates, Sunday kayaking (with masks) or exploring a new hike. The extra cuddles and hugs have been good for all too, and they help balance out the extra crying and yelling.
You’re doing a good job, even if your child only moved for 60 seconds today instead of 60 minutes or if there was no green on the plate. Break down your goals for you and your family, then take one bite at a time. Do the best you can with the mental and physical resources you have right now, and remember that kiddos are resilient. It’s you we worry about. Build on your support system if needed. Mental health providers and registered dietitian nutritionists are offering virtual appointments right now and many insurances have increased their reimbursement for telehealth. We can all get through this together.
About the Author:
Melissa Majumdar, MS, RD, CSOWM, LDN, is a registered dietitian, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) national media spokesperson, and works at Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta. She has been working from home and schooling from home since March and says she has had more failures than successes in this area, but is happy to share her lessons learned.