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Thoughtful Parenting: Back-to-school routines

Going back to school brings mixed emotions of excitement and nervousness for a new year, but many parents also dread having to get their child(ren) out of the house and to school on time. Setting up evening and morning routines can make mornings more enjoyable.

Many children struggle with getting ready for school because they do not yet have the executive functioning skills needed. Executive function is a set of mental skills that help us plan, remember directions, focus attention, and start and complete tasks. These skills do not come naturally to many children, but we can teach strategies to help build them starting as early as preschool. 

Involve your child

Start by making a list with your child of what needs to be done to get ready for school. Having a physical checklist can be helpful so parents can ask children to check the list to see what needs to be done next. This can replace constant nagging to get everything completed. Parents can work with children to decide how long each task will take, what they can do in the morning versus the evening, and what they can do independently. Together you can determine the time to get up in the morning. 



Adapt this process to your child’s age. A younger child will need more guidance and have more success with pictures to refer to and a way to check items off the list. A teenager may resist altogether, but this activity can be beneficial if they have a difficult time getting ready and can help set them up for success into adulthood. Have them write it on their own and check in with them about it. It is beneficial for all children to take as much ownership as possible based on their current skills. 

Celebrate the positive

It will take some time for it to become a routine. At first, children need guidance in how each task should be completed. Encourage them by celebrating what they do well. Review the morning routine in the evening and focus on one area to improve at a time. After a few weeks, review the list and decide what needs to be adjusted.



If you want to learn more about how to help your child develop executive functioning skills, check out the book “Smart but Scattered” by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare.

Kim Schulz is the executive director and part of the team of reading experts at Steamboat Reading. Steamboat Reading is a nonprofit that provides a community of support for struggling readers and their families. They are part of the Routt County Youth Services Coalition. Visit http://www.steamboatreading.org.


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