1. The daily grind
You’re stuck at work, but your mind is wondering if the kids made it home safely from school or practice. If they have phones, ask them to send a quick text to verify they arrived. If not, ask them to call your mobile phone when they get home. Work out a system for when you can’t answer – no message means everything went as planned, and a voicemail means they need something else from you. (Cross your fingers it isn’t the soccer bag in the trunk of your car!)
If this is the first year your kids will stay home alone, or you aren’t sure you’ve thought of everything, go through this Kids on Their Own Checklist from the Minnesota Safety Council.
2. The calendar issue
It’s time to put an end to paper calendars, beautiful as they may be. At the beginning of each season, compile all school and activity calendars, and enter them into a digital, shareable calendar. There are plenty of great apps out there – Cozi and Skedi are both top-ranked examples. Add your partner, nanny or others responsible for pickups and drop-offs to each event as you would for any work-related meeting. Consider color-coding by child, activity or location for easy reference.
Most importantly, sit down each Sunday night to review the calendar, update times and locations, and check for potential gaps in coverage. Then, bring in your arsenal of helpers! Everyone wants to provide assistance to other parents, but it’s easiest to get help if you ask a few days in advance.
3. Make time
When you check your calendar on Sunday, see if there’s a day when the whole family can have dinner together. On that night, set a good example by leaving work on time and putting dinner on the table (even if it’s just a quick meal from the grocery store deli). This time should be free of phones, TV and stress. We all know that asking “How was school today?” doesn’t elicit a great response, so here are some questions you can ask to get the conversation started.
4. Set aside space and time for homework
To create a strong work ethic, encourage your kids to be resourceful when doing their homework. Many local libraries and city centers offer online help or in-person tutoring hours. For example, the St. Paul Public Library offers an amazing online system called Homework Rescue, where students can get homework and term paper help, and learn study skills. If you don’t live in the St. Paul area, contact your local library or city center to see if they offer a similar program. Plus, students can always ask their teachers for before or after school help if they do not understand a topic.
Once at home, remember that kids thrive when they can finish their homework and study in the same place each night. It doesn’t matter if you buy a desk for their room or set up a nook in the kitchen – just make sure your kids’ study spaces are out of hearing distance from the TV.
5. Establish a sleep schedule
Due to high use of the Internet, TV and smartphones, many kids (and adults, for that matter), aren’t getting the sleep they need. It’s important to remember that kids up to the age of 12 require 10 to 12 hours of sleep a night to function properly. Teenagers, meanwhile, require 8 ½ to 9 ½ hours of sleep per night.
With schools starting earlier and earlier, this can be all but impossible. Work together to determine the most realistic bedtime for your child, and pay attention to how sleep affects their moods the next day.
If you don’t mind being a bit unpopular, make sure your kids hand over their screens (iPod, smartphone, tablets, etc.) to you before they go to bed. Then you can be sure they’re not caught up in a group message at 2am.
6. What do I do if…?
If you have young or vulnerable children, it’s important to walk them through various safety scenarios that may arise at school, activities or even at home. Remember, you want to guide them but not scare them about any dangers that may arise. Below are a few examples, and here are additional tips on street smarts.
Q: What do I do if practice ends and you’re not there to pick me up?
I will always do my best to be there on time. But if I’m late, make sure you tell your coach that I am still on my way. She’ll wait with you until I’m there. If you’re really worried, or it’s taking longer than it should, ask to use her phone to call me.
Q: What do I do if I’m home alone and the door rings?
It’s best not to talk with someone you don’t know – whether they are at the door, calling on the phone, or trying to talk online. So, be sure to look out a side window before opening the door, and check Caller ID before answering the phone. Ignore any online chats or emails if you’re not sure who is sending them. You can always apologize later if it was a mistake, but it’s best to be safe.
Q: What do I do if a stranger or family member says you asked them to pick me up from school?
Part of my job as your parent is to make sure you know the plan everyday. I would never send a stranger to come get you. And if your aunt or grandpa were coming to get you, I’d tell you – and your school – in advance. There’s no reason to go anywhere with someone that I haven’t told you is picking you up.
Back-to-school season can be stressful but with preparation and a few steps taken in advance, you can get through these next few weeks in a snap!