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How to Put the Happy into Back to School

How to Put the Happy into Back to School
The bliss of summer is coming to a close.  Family vacations are wrapping up.  Days swimming and late nights watching movies will soon be over.  As you leave more leisurely schedules behind, how can you put some “happy” into back to school for your children and for yourself?  
Planning for a smooth transition back into the school year can really make a difference between a rocky start for your child and a strong one.  The more confident, comfortable, and equipped your child feels about entering the next grade, the better he or she will perform in the classroom.  Here are a few ideas to give you a stronger – and happier – start to school:    
Use Anticipation.  Instead of modeling dread when you talk about going back to school, show that you as a parent are excited about the next school year.  After all, you probably are!  In the same way you would anticipate a trip, you can count down the days to school.  Schedule a “back to school” family party the night before school where you go to a favorite place for dinner or cook a favorite meal.  At this family celebration, ask questions like: 
What did you really enjoy about school last year?
What were some of your funniest memories? 
What are you excited about this coming school year?  
Do you have any concerns?  
What goals do you have this year?  (Encourage your child to make specific goals like “master my times tables” or “score 80% on my spelling tests”)  
Avoid Last Minute Shopping.  You don’t want to be in the shoe aisle at 7:30 pm the night before school, trying to find a pair of tennis shoes for your child.  Don’t do that to yourself or your kids.  Purchase essential clothing, backpacks, and school supplies a few days before the first day of school or sooner.  You don’t want to start school from a stressed out place because of last minute shopping.  If you know you tend to procrastinate, put alerts on your phone to buy everything you need five days before school starts.  Treat this as a firm deadline with no wiggle room.         
Have a Game Plan for Screen Time.  If you don’t have a plan in place, screens will probably steal every free moment in your child’s day.  Determine how much time per day is allowed.  Which shows, games, and social networks are approved?  In my book 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Mom, I outline several ideas including:    
The Priority List:  Author Dannah Gresh realized when her kids transitioned to middle school, she would lose a lot of control over what they were watching. They needed to be able to self-moderate.  She had her kids write down a list of their priorities.  They wrote their list which included family, time with God, homework, soccer, piano, video games, and time with friends.  They had them put them in order of importance which made them realize why they didn’t get to play video games until homework was done or chores were complete. Dannah says, “Teaching consequential thinking skills was important so they could carry those limits into high school, college and beyond.  Otherwise you’re just setting rules.”
Media Free Days:  Have a certain day of the week like Sunday that is a screen free day.  When you announce this change and if your kids freak out, you’ll know they are too connected to their screens.  Be consistent even when your kids protest (and you may too!).  After a few weeks, you will begin to enjoy this quality time together to connect as a family sans screens.  
Play School.  With your younger children, role play by being the teacher and talking about what class will be like.  Explain how your child will be dropped off and picked up and who will be getting them.  Make it very clear so your child isn’t worried at all about the logistics of school.  With your middle and high schoolers, you can visit the school beforehand to see where your child’s classrooms are.      
Reset from Last Year.  Maybe last year was rough academically or socially for your child.  Address those problems and brainstorm together about how your child might handle a bully or math test differently.  Maybe this year, you’ll get a tutor or cut out an activity to give more time in the week for homework and breathing room.  Offer the school year to God by praying together with your child.  Remind them it’s a new school year with a fresh, clean slate!    
As you build anticipation into the beginning of school, you will help your child see the start of the school year as something to look forward to, not something to dread. Prepare your child for a happy start, pray for God’s protection and direction, and get ready to watch your child soar and grow in his or her next grade.     
Arlene Pellicane is a speaker and author of Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World and 31 Days to Becoming a Happy Wife. She has been a guest on the Today Show, Family Life Today, The 700 Club and Turning Point with David Jeremiah. Arlene and her husband James live in San Diego with their three children. Visit Arlene’s website at
Publication date: August 24, 2015