Once the school year starts, developing and keeping a consistent schedule is vital to children’s health and well-being, says Diane Bales, a child development specialist with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.
As summer winds down and preparations for the upcoming school year begin, Bales recommends that parents establish a routine. A routine provides security for children and helps reduce the stress of the new school year.
“The younger the children are, the more they rely on that security to know what to expect in their day and in their life,” said Bales, an associate professor in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Science. “Setting up that routine and practicing the steps reduces anxiety on the first day of school and helps make the transition from summer to school much smoother.”
The most challenging change in schedule from summer to the school year comes at bedtime. During the summer, parents may be more relaxed about their children’s bedtime, knowing that the children don’t have to get up early the next day. Bales suggests that parents start establishing an earlier bedtime at least a week before school starts; changing that bedtime overnight is unlikely to produce positive results.
“If your children have been going to bed at 9 and they need to go to bed at 7 or 7:30 to get enough sleep for school, they won't easily fall asleep when you put them to bed at 7:30 right away. Moving bedtime back 15 minutes every night for a week is going to be more effective,” Bales said. “It gets you closer to actually having them on the schedule that you want them to have.”
Bales also points to the importance of getting children to wind down before they go to bed. Activities that stimulate the mind — like watching TV or using an electronic device — may prevent them from sleeping when they’re supposed to, says Bales.
“Maybe take a bath, brush your teeth or read a book. Just have some quiet, settled-down time,” Bales said. “It doesn’t mean that they’re never going to resist and never going to be unhappy when it’s time to go to bed, but be consistent. Over time, it really does give them that security.”
Parents are also encouraged to prepare the night before the start of school in order to make the first morning of school easier. Lay out clothes ahead of time. Make lunch the night before. Put essentials like books or bookbags in designated places. This allows for a more peaceful morning for the children and for parents to get ready in a timely manner.
(Clint Thompson is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences based in Tifton.)