2004-09-17 / Columnists

Health & Harmony

Easing Into The School Routine
By Dr. Nancy Gahles

DR. nancy gahles
DR. nancy gahles I use the term “routine” in the headline for this column for a reason. We do need to set an acceptable routine or timetable of events that sets expectations for the year. This helps to avoid stressful situations that may occur because we weren’t sure what was expected of us and when we had to comply. Although routine sounds boring and restrictive, when used properly it can give an amazing amount of freedom and flexibility to both parents and children as well as partners!

Begin by discussing each child’s curriculum and the expectations of their teachers. Then talk about how much time will be devoted to homework and extra curricular activities. Allow plenty of free, unrestricted time. Pencil it in so everyone knows that free time is indispensable time. We need this time for relaxation, pursuit of hobbies or daydreaming or even, yes, computer chat time with friends. Face it, this is the technology of the day. When used with respect, it is like the telephone call of our day. And, believe me, I was on the phone for hours with my friends! Down time, as it is sometimes referred to, is most important. Discuss the best way to relax with your child. Acknowledging how to relax and making time for it will increase focused concentration times and decrease general stress. Once school starts I often notice the tendency to peep into the children’s rooms and when I find them on the computer, I say, “ Why aren’t you doing homework?, Did you finish everything?” Certainly, it is a must to remind them to stay on task but all too often I fall into the trap of thinking that school is a job that goes from 7 a.m. when they get on the bus to 11 p.m. when they go to bed. It is a common pitfall of parenting. We want them to be constantly working. It seems like this will guarantee them a seat at Harvard. Usually it drives them to distraction. Moreover, it is totally unreasonable. Would you like to spend 8 hours at work, come home, play a little ball, eat dinner and go to work again for 3-4 more hours? I think that’s why they instituted child labor laws. Then we wonder why the children don’t like school or can’t stay focused. So, I suggest that we make a routine that includes plenty of free time to pursue nurturing activities. It does require scheduling, however. Make a schedule. Write it down. When the child sees the free periods scheduled in they will look forward to it, plan things to fill it and generally be relieved to see so many empty square boxes for free time! I think it is a good idea

to break up the free periods in between the more hectic times. Don’t schedule three periods of homework and then all free time. This is too “corporate America.” It breeds burn-out. Teach them to pace their activities and do short spurts of quality work and then some free time of fun. This recharges them to go back and to do more quality work without the stress of finishing everything before they can ever relax. As we know about reality, that will never happen!

It is my belief that meal time with the family is a good, healthy routine that has gone by the wayside as the afterschool games of kickball in the street morphed into traveling soccer teams and the like. If and when possible eat together as a family. If you can’t then I suggest that you get together for a snack before bed. Just a bit of time to recollect the events of the day, the triumphs and the failures, give a word of hope and encouragement to carry on. A big hug and a prayer of thanksgiving go a long way to creating a healthy tomorrow and a good night’s sleep.

As autumn approaches and the season changes, all the changes in your life become more apparent. Prepare yourself and your children by talking about this. Be sure to ask them what went wrong in their day and what they were uncomfortable about. This is as important as inquiring about what they liked. It’s more probable that the things that bothered them will have more impact on them than the pleasant things. Taking a bedtime inventory is a good thing to do. Working out solutions to the small issues will decrease the stress that builds from harboring problems. Remember to compliment the effort they put in even if the outcome was not what you expected. Sustained focus and consistent results are very unrealistic. Create a routine where you review the cause and effect and see where you can make positive improvements. Always be loving and kind in your discussions. These are our precious ones. And we are all so fragile. Words carry a great impression and impact us for our lives. Before you speak, think “Is it kind? Is it truthful? Is it necessary?” When it meets all three criteria it will be well received. Win/Win. Parenting our children rightly gives us the opportunity to parent ourselves. Schedule in time for love, it gives the highest yield of return for your investment.

May The Blessings Be!

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