Summer is the season for parents to reconnect with their children, slow down and enjoy each other’s company. However once August  and Labor Day weekend rolls around, television ads are filled with “back to school” specials, and the stress begins for parents as they prepare for the September madness of purchasing school supplies and clothes for their children. This tension escalates throughout the rest of the school year as both parents and children cope with the hectic lifestyle filled with multiple activities, long school days and that compound word known as HOMEWORK.

My husband and I will miss taking our five girls to the pool, staying up late playing cards or watching a movie. Yet, after my two older girls decided to paint their nails and spilled a whole bottle of nail polish on the tile floor, I was ready to send them back to school immediately. What perfect timing! They start school next week.  

For parents and their children, back to school is filled with mixed emotions. On the first day of school, parents will be posting photos of their meticulously dressed children on Facebook– their daughters with bows in their hair and their sons’ shirts all tucked in, modeling their new shoes. However, by the end of the first week, both parents and their children look ragged, feel exhausted and yearn for those simpler summer days.

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Once our children are back in school, the quality time we spend with our children quickly diminishes. How can parents prepare for the “back to school” craziness and also stay connected to their children?

1. Make the weekend count: We are quick to schedule every moment with some activity, even on the weekends. Like summer, weekends give us a chance to slow down.  Families can recreate summer moments on the weekends by cooking together, playing board games, planning a movie night or working in the garden.

A friend whose daughter is starting college shared with me how quickly the years have gone by. Her advice was to treasure those free moments with our children. We are all so busy just getting through the day and dealing with the stress in their lives that it is easy to forget what is important: nourishing and strengthening the parental relationship with our children.

2. Rediscover the love of learning with your children: Homework can be stressful for so many children, especially those who don’t particularly like school. With each passing year, students are required to do more homework. A 2004 University of Michigan survey of 2,009 six- to seventeen-year-old children found that the time spent each week on homework had increased from approximately 2.5 hours to close to 4 hours.   

While homework can be overwhelming, parents can help alleviate the stress by helping their children get organized and tackle one project at a time.  

The love of learning starts at home. Although homework can be cumbersome, we can help them to learn the importance of problem solving and completing a task, which are well worthy attributes to learn as they grow up.

3. Recreate the art of conversation with your children: Conversations are a lost art.  Our children (and parents included) live in the electronic age where the iPhone, iTouch and the cell phone have turned into the grown-up version of a security blanket, and in many cases, texting has become the preferred form of conversation.  

I was so disturbed this summer when I saw three teenage girls eating lunch and texting the whole time instead of talking to each other.  

Excessive texting can be disruptive to building relationships and a negative source for dealing with serious problems, yet so many prefer to text about their feelings instead of talking face-to-face.    

We are also guilty of constantly checking email and being on the phone, especially at times when our children may want us to listen to something they need to tell us. Especially after a long day of working at home or in the office, the weary parent is quick to give in and allow their kids to play video games and watch hours of television.

Limiting electronics are healthy for both parents and children so that real and meaningful conversations can occur.

4. Make dinnertime sacred: By turning off the electronics especially during dinnertime, the family is able to reconnect with each other.  Dinnertime gives parents an opportunity to talk about current events, learn  how their children are doing in school and educate them on important issues affecting the world.  

I have vivid memories of sitting around the dinner table with my Cuban family and talking about the horrors of the communist regime in Cuba and the greatness of America. My parents reminded me of my duty as an American citizen to always defend and cherish the freedom and democracy in this country. Those conversations strongly shaped my political views and clearly helped me to decide my career path.

Parents have the ultimate responsibility of building a child’s character, and those moments begin when children are engaged in a conversation with their parents.

Back to school means fewer hours in the day for parents to spend with their children so parents need to ensure those free moments with their kids count. In other words, we need to rekindle the joys of summer where the art of conversation and learning are the focus of the family throughout the school year.