Off To a Good Start

Suddenly, it’s that time of year again: the air feels cooler, the days are getting shorter, the light is changing. Kids have started back to school and the laid back days of summer are morphing into more structured ones, like it or not.

Whether your troops are heading off to school for the first time or are returning as seasoned pros, they need your help in setting things up so they are primed to succeed.

But how? I know it sounds overwhelming, but it’s not so bad if you just remember to include The Three R’s. No, not reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. Those are their Three R’s. Yours are:


Remind your kids of how you expect them to behave when they are at school. Keep it simple but make it important. Stress things like manners, cooperation and responsibility. Explain which behaviors demonstrate those concepts, depending on their age.

For a nursery-schooler, for example, you might explain that it’s important to treat teacher and classmates nicely at school. That means no hitting, yelling or pushing. Encourage her to use her words when she has a problem and help her practice these behaviors at home.

An older child may need to be reminded that the ipod has to stay home or that she must call first if she wants to go to a friend’s house after school. Anther important rule for all children to be reminded of is that they may never use their bodies or words to hurt or intimidate anyone.

Other rules may include how much television or computer time is permitted during the week or when homework has to be done.

Regardless of which rules apply in your family, now is the perfect time to reinforce them.


Establishing (or reestablishing) sleep schedules, family mealtimes, and good personal hygiene habits will go a long way to keeping your child healthy and on-track. Remember that habits are nothing more than actions repeated over and over again and that good ones can be easily established as long as you consistently reinforce them.

The beginning of a school year is the perfect time to lay out new behaviors that you want to see from your child. You can easily talk them into adding a couple new things to their “to do” list since they are “so much older” now. If you play your cards right they will hear your request to step up a bit more as a compliment and will comply. Just make sure the new expectations are age appropriate and that they understand exactly what it is you are talking about. And then don’t forget to cheerfully remind them of what you expect every day until they have it down.

Getting things organized the night before and having a morning routine will help prevent the typical mad scramble which causes arguments and leaves everyone feeling stressed before the day has even begun. Include your kids in the process and give them a specific chore or two to do.

Rest and Recreation

These two categories often get the least amount of attention. That’s a shame because they are critical to the health and well-being of your little guys and gals. Seriously!

Children need a lot of sleep in order to function, learn, behave well, grow, and heal. And they need it every night. This is not just a matter of opinion, it is a well documented medical fact. How much? You may be surprised. Take a look:

4-12 Months Old: 14 – 15 hours per day

1-3 Years Old: 12 – 14 hours per day

3-6 Years Old: 10 – 12 hours per day

7-12 Years Old: 10 – 11 hours per day

12-18 Years Old: 8 – 10 hours per day

I know that given the busyness of our lives these days, sleep is often the first thing that gets cut. But it should not be. Your children really, really need it.

The other thing they really, really need is down time. I’m not talking about a fun “class” here, I’m talking about free, unstructured time when they can play alone or with a friend, and outside is best. They need to learn how to occupy themselves, how to imagine and invent, and how to have fun with no money! Make sure you give them plenty of opportunities in this department. They will be healthier, smarter, calmer, better problem solvers, and more self-confident if you do.

It will also help the rest of us out! We so desperately need people who can think outside-the-box in order to come up with creative solutions to the many problems that face the world today. Your children could be some of those people. But they will never develop the skills to do so by sitting in front of a computer or T.V. set.

So that’s it mamas. Best of luck with the new year. Hope it goes great. Check in and let us know what’s up.

P.S. Now’s a great time to start thinking about getting those flu shots, too.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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The Mama ButtonThe information provided by MamasOnCall is not intended as a substitute for professional advice, but is for information purposes only. You assume full responsibility for the health and well-being of your family. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical or psychiatric condition.