Unless you’ve recently found a functioning magic wand, getting your kids genuinely excited to go back to school might not be a realistic goal. It’s the rare kid who prefers math homework to sleeping in and playing outdoors, and everything’s a little more complicated for families of divorce. That doesn’t mean that this period has to be miserable for everyone. You and your kids can get through the back-to-school season in one piece, with a little preparation.
Get Parents on the Same Page
The start of the school year is a chaotic time for all families. Divorced and separated parents have extra challenges. Something as minor as communicating about a new school policy can be tough when you’re apart. If the kids sense that their parents aren’t on the same team about school stuff, it could add to their dread about going back to the classroom.
Both parents should read all communication from the school and raise any questions or concerns. Next, create a shared calendar that includes details like what time the kids wake up, eat and go to bed. This is especially useful if you have a strained relationship and prefer to communicate virtually. Discuss rules relating to screen time, homework time, food and socializing so you can (hopefully) create some basic ground rules around these things.
Does one parent lives too far away to be part of the kids’ day-to-day life? Coordinate with the school so that you both get all communication from teachers and staff. Still create that shared calendar, too. The remote parent should always know what’s going on with school. That way, he or she can back up your decisions and have meaningful conversations with the kids.
Adjust the Routines
Unless your family stays on a school schedule all year, back-to-school season calls for making some adjustments. Kids who have been waking up at 8 a.m. won’t be at their best if they’re suddenly required to get up at 6 a.m.
Prepare them for a smooth back-to-school transition by making minor adjustments to their schedules. Gradually shift bedtimes and wake-up times. Ask them to do 30 minutes of reading per day. Require them to pick out their clothes at night. If little kids are eating lunch at home right now, start serving it in lunch boxes to get them used to eating that way.
Again, getting your co-parent on board is one of the most important factors in determining how smoothly this goes. You could spend all week inching up bedtimes for your school-bound kids. All that effort won’t matter if your ex lets them stay up until midnight the next week.
Give Them Something to Look Forward To
Some kids struggle more with school than others, so it’s disingenuous to promise them that they’re going to love going back to school. But what you can do is give them some positive association with the idea of going to school again.
You might devise a reward system tied to performance, which allows them to earn things they really want by making a good effort in school. In the week leading up to the first day, wrap a series of small toys or gifts and give kids one each day. Get slightly more exciting first-day-of-school gifts and organize an after-school party on the first day. Plan a fun activity for the first weekend of school, too. Even just a pajamas-and-movies party at home could be a special treat.
If all else fails, help your glum kids get some perspective. Tell them that they have to get through school on their way to the rest of their lives. Talk about what they want to do when they’re adults, and why going to school is a necessary step on that ladder. Remembering that school is just temporary should comfort a kid who’s dreading going back.