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School: Ground rules to start year
August 23, 2018

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Plato is quoted to have said that the beginning is the most important part of the work. I would add to that idea that making a healthy routines keeps the good work going! What I am offering the reader in this article are some suggestions for developing a routine, or "ground rules," for a successful start to the school year. These ground rules will keep that success going all year long. This may seem strange, but none of these rules are about school per se. Instead, these ground rules are for setting up your student for success once they are actually in school.

The first ground rules are about sleep. Getting enough sleep is key to school success. Sleep allows us to clear our brain's memory for a new day of learning. Adolescent children need at least 8 hours, and elementary children need ten hours or more. A recent book by Matthew Walker called "Why We Sleep" provides expert advice on how to get a good night's sleep. He recommends getting up and going to bed at the same time every night. Even if you've had a bad night's sleep, getting up at the same time every day helps set your circadian rhythm. If you need a nap later, go ahead but make it short. He also suggests dimming lights and cutting out screens an hour before bedtime. Additionally, the cooler the room is the better it is for sleeping.

Sleep leads to another set of ground rules that are very important: rules for screens and phones. TV in the bedroom is a bad idea, even for adults. It leads to sleep disruption more than it helps. I would recommend taking TVs out of rooms. There are too many ways to binge and compulsively watch until one's eyes are bloodshot - Netflix, gaming, the list goes on. The sheer volume of entertainment that children can consume is practically limitless. One simple way to control all of that is to put your wireless router on a timer so that it automatically turns off at night and turns back on in the morning. That keeps the parents from falling into bad habits as well.

Kids need ground rules for their phones. Take them out of their rooms at night. If they protest that they use it as an alarm, get them alarm clock. They cost $12. If they say they use it to play music to go to sleep, get them an old fashioned MP3 player or CD player. Kids are much more likely to become addicted to social media and gaming than adults, and look how many of us are with our phones! Do your kids a favor, and take their phones at night. Let them sleep and take a break from the constant connection to technology.

There are some really good ground rules to follow about when and what we eat. At night, discourage your kids from eating right up until they go to sleep. Studies indicate that stopping eating 2 hours before bed helps reduce several health risks, including obesity. It is also important to eat a hearty and healthy breakfast. Many kids reports skipping breakfast, or eating high-sugar foods first thing in the morning. This sets up the young student for failure in school. By lunch period, those kids are often feeling lethargic, grumpy and shaky. Then, they rush for the high-carb lunch choices which make them sleepy the rest of the day. It is much better to have a high fat/high protein breakfast such as eggs and bacon, yogurt or a protein shake. This sets a steady blood sugar level all day and prevents those highs and lows for your child.

Lastly, whatever can be prepared or organized the night before should be organized. Get clothes laid out. Get the athletic gear for practice all ready. Get the backpack organized and ready to go. Get the lunch packed and the frying pan ready to cook breakfast. This makes the morning so much easier.

All of these ground rules sound great, don't they? It's logical that they would work to help set a good and sustainable pace for success. I hope you will try them. Don't give up if you fall off your set routine. That's bound to happen when kids get sick, holidays happen and so many other unforeseen challenges occur in life. Just get back to it as soon as possible.

Patrick Ward, Ph.D. is a marriage and family therapist in Parkersburg. Visit his website at patrickwardphd.com

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