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Back-to-School Survival Tips for the Modern Parent


Our four kids are entering 9th, 8th, 5th and 4th grade. After the 4th of July, it feels like summer is ending and we have to start signing up for activities and get a fall schedule nailed down. The thought of summer’s demise, homework arguments, and having to get everyone up and out the door every day, on time leaves me cringing. It’s officially back-to-school already.

Before the sweetness of a routine settles in, getting through the back-to-school process seems like Mission Impossible. We used to rely on tips like clothes out the night before, snacks and lunches prepared in advance, and easing into earlier bedtimes – but modern technology and tech-savvy teachers call for new strategies. Here are some survival tips for the modern parent.

1) Be savvy about technology and ensure your child knows the electronics usage policy at the school. Technology is moving at lightning speed and the school policies change frequently to keep up. Know what the rules are for phones, texting, going on the internet, school laptops, iPads, iPods, etc. Your child’s electronics should be engraved with their name or scratch their name on the device so they can prove they are the owner. Today, many schools have gone paperless. Don’t be the parent who doesn’t read email.

2) Eliminate the 50+ pound backpack your child drags back and forth to school. Electronics and other valuables will get smashed from the shear weight if dropped. E-mail the teacher for the list of books, go to and buy used textbooks. Keep this set at home – at a cost of $5-$8 each, you will eliminate many nights of angst – never a forgotten book for homework or to study for a test. In a few years, textbooks will be on laptops or tablets so this is a transitional strategy. Also, pack the backpack together so they have everything they need and know where to find things.

3) During the first week, let them eat what they want as long as it will keep them filled up until lunch. Agree on the menu in advance. Soups, leftover meats, mac and cheese are all fine. We would prefer they eat fresh eggs and toast with a side of ham but it is more important they eat. Send snacks with your child every day. They usually do not eat or drink enough during the first days of school.

4) Design a ‘wake up agreement’ with each child for how he/she will get up. We carry our youngest to the kitchen chair as she simply cannot get out of bed. Our oldest uses her alarm clock with music and hits snooze a few times. It bugs her sister but it works. The agreements are based on their specific suggestions but then each child has to stick to it.

5) Use humorous punishments to get them to stay on task. We use terms of endearment at drop-off as weapons if they are late. For example, I’ll yell, “we love you smoochie girl” to our 8th grader if she is late getting into the car or has a bad attitude. She rolls her eyes and is not really embarrassed but it makes the point- stay on task without breaking her spirit.

6) Lock in the fall schedule. We all hear about how our kids are overscheduled with activities. My kids have lots of activities because these are essentially modern playdates. They participate in activities with their friends. I think busy kids tend to manage their time better! Yes, I said it – go ahead and schedule your kids.

Get them to own the fall schedule. I used to beg them to go to Karate or piano or swimming. These lessons and activities cost money and I do not want to be the police officer that forces them to show up. Now, we let them choose between options we outline but it is their routine. Many parents are too invested in their kids’ routines and the kids are not invested enough.

7) Do not send them on the first day as perfectly coiffed little children with new clothes, shoes, and haircuts. You think this impresses the teacher, but it doesn’t. The best gift you can give the teacher is an open, positive child that is ready to learn. Little kids dressed like winter birthday presents with shoes that are giving them blisters are not going to have the best day. Since the weather is still warm/hot, go for comfort and let them wear their well-loved summer favorites. Label any item they can remove with a black sharpie. Most schools’ lost and founds are overflowing with jackets, shoes and water bottles. As the weather changes, get the new clothes on sale.

8) Follow the rules, parents! We are all busy and none of us likes sitting in traffic and waiting in drop off lines but what really makes people upset are cutters, line cheaters and speeders. Drive the route in advance to understand the pick up and drop off dynamics; don’t make the first day of school your dry run. And do not go with your child to the class unless this is the school’s process. This creates drama and traffic jams, and, the teacher doesn’t like it. Teachers really want to meet the parents at the Orientation Night, which all parents should attend.

Positive attitudes go a long way. I can’t control my children’s moods but I influence them, and I work very hard to control my attitude. This is my biggest challenge because the kids are very difficult the first few days. This is their biggest transition each year and most act moody and/or quirky.