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Eight Back-to-School Survival Tips for the Modern Parent

I live my life in 15-minute increments during the school year. We have four kids who are entering 8th, 7th, 4th and 3rd grade. They are in three different schools and all have after-school sports and activities. We both have demanding jobs with travel. At least once a week, our dog, Buster Brown, runs away to be with the neighbor’s Chihuahua just to keep things exciting. And we have the normal dental, medical, and social drama cropping up every day. 

So 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 having 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 a savvy user of 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.. 

And for your child’s own electronics, label everything; in fact scratch their name on the device if you own it so it will get returned if lost. 

Today, information coming home in paper format is more and more limited. Don’t be the parent who doesn’t read e-mail so the teacher/school has to base the communication process on you.

2) Eliminate the 50+ pound backpack that 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 Amazon.com and buy used textbooks and keep this set at home. They cost $5-$8 each and you can find all of them. I can’t tell you how much this helps – no more forgotten or lost books. 

In a few years, textbooks will be on laptops or tablets so this is a transitional strategy. 

Also, pack the backpack together with your child so that all the forms, back-to-school list items, extra clothes, snacks, etc. are in place. They should know where everything is and feel organized.

3) Jack in the Box serves breakfast all day. So any food should be able to be served for breakfast. 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 so sending snacks is important.

4) Design a ‘wake up agreement’ with each child for how he/she will get up. We carry our youngest to the kitchen and put her in a chair to help her wake up, 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 wake-up agreements are based on each child's specific suggestion but once they are made, 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 7th grader if she is late getting into the car or has a bad attitude. She rolls her eyes but smiles as she walks away. She is not really embarrassed but it makes the point. 

My husband also threatens our 9 year-old son with his best breakdance move if is caught trying to sneak 5 minutes on the Playstation while the rest of us sit waiting. The point is to stay on task without breaking their spirit.

6) Lock in the fall schedule. We all hear about how our kids are over-scheduled 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.

I will say, however, I think it is over the top to tutor for advantage versus tutoring due to necessity so keep things in perspective while you are scheduling.

Get them to own the fall schedule. Having them own their activities is key. Otherwise I am begging 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. 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 will impress the teacher, but it won’t. 

The best gift you can give the teacher is an open, positive child who 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 does not really want to converse with anxious parents at this point. She/he wants to meet your child and other children so they can begin their learning journey together. 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 can 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. Most kids don’t embrace change right away and this is a big change from the summer. This is their biggest transition each year and they can act moody and/or quirky.

I admit I am delighted the kids are going back to school. 

I can accept the 15-minute increments because we have a routine -- a busy, active routine. I use this joy to resist the temptation to yell at my children or swear at a cutting parent on the first morning of school.

Eileen Wacker lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, with her husband and four children. She is the author of the new children's book, "Pink Hamster and the Birthday Surprise," the fourth installment of the award winning Fujimini Adventure Series. For additional information on the series, please visit www.oncekids.com.