Get With the Program: The Importance of Settling into Routines at the Start of the School Year

The beginning of a new school year can be stressful for children and parents alike. Children must woefully say goodbye to carefree summer days, and say hello to alarm clocks, schedules, and routines. The truth is, as much as a routine may feel foreign to children after three months of freedom, it is vital to put routines in place at the start of the school year. Settling into the school year takes time and patience, especially if your child is transitioning to a new school. However, providing your child with a set routine will make this transition much easier.

It is especially important to begin the routine right when school starts. Have you ever tried to put the toothpaste back into the tube? Trying to implement a routine after beginning the year with a lax attitude is like trying to undo the toothpaste mess—frustrating, messy, and likely impossible.  

Beginning a routine from the get-go eliminates the stress of having to undo negative behavior patterns and mindsets. A set routine provides many advantages for parents and children. Here are ways to initiate a routine:

  • Set expectations
  • Teach time management
  • Provide structure
  • Reduce anxiety by eliminating “the unknown”
  • Build trust between parents/caretakers and children

By setting expectations, children learn what is and is not acceptable. For instance, when children know that homework must be completed by a specific time, there is no questioning or negotiating at the end of the day. Similarly, the routine creates pockets of time in which activities will take place. Children are often booked with practices, rehearsals, homework, family events, etc. Managing all of these items is stressful enough for adults, let alone children. When parents and children plan ahead together to allot time for each activity, children learn how to use their time productively. They also learn to prioritize activities.

A routine is emotionally beneficial, as well. It is human nature to stress about the unknown or unexpected. When children follow routines, they know what to expect. Thus, anxiety is reduced when children are familiar with the trajectory of their day.

Of course, a crazy little thing called life may disrupt the routine from time to time. This is ok. More than ok, actually. Like adults, children learn to be flexible, adaptable, and creative during unpredictable times. It is important for parents to recognize the likelihood that the routine may need to be adjusted occasionally. Plasticity is key to utilizing the routine.

Settling into a new routine could begin by simply implementing a family calendar on the refrigerator. Color-coded sticky notes are a great way to visually coordinate and plan for activities during the week. Children in the middle grades could certainly be responsible for posting their own scheduled activities, as well. This would highlight their important tasks for the week while encouraging personal responsibility. Keeping everyone on the same page, literally and figuratively, will help to create a much-needed routine during the school year!