• Jo Hall

Back to School at Last! - tips for a stress free return to "normality"

Whether you've school age kids or not, the beginning of September/back to school is always a great opportunity for a fresh start, but never more so than this year! When I first wrote this blog twelve months ago, I would never have imagined in my wildest dreams, that this year our children would be returning to school having had a six month "holiday". Six months at home with all the added stresses and pressures that they (and we) have had to cope with during the global pandemic.

This updated blog focuses on back to school, but the ideas for getting organised and putting processes in place to make day to day routines easier, apply equally well to those starting back at work after the very, very long "break".

Start with a clean slate - set aside a day to declutter and organise your kids' bedrooms. If you do this before the end of the school holidays, once term starts, it will be so much easier for your child to be able to sleep well, find the things they need each day for school and keep their room tidy when time is more limited. Get rid of the books your child no longer needs. eBay or donate text books. Exercise books can go to recycling (if they're not needed for revision next year). If you go through the decluttering process with your child, they'll feel more in control of what stays and what goes and you'll be teaching them good habits for the future.

If they're not changing schools get them to try on their school uniform. Does it still fill? Does it need repairing or altering? Find and allocate adequate storage space for uniform, sports kit and all other equipment. Once the room is organised, come to an agreement on how a tidy room will be maintained going forward, think about linking this to pocket money as an incentive. Talk about the benefits of having a tidy room (quicker and easier to get ready every morning/items required for the day less likely to be left at home). Discuss and manage expectations on whether or not you'll be willing/able to drop forgotten items in to school.

For more tips on staying organised - Seven Habits of Organised People

Repair and reuse what you can, before buying new - we all need to be taking more responsibility for the effect mass consumption is having on our world, with this in mind, try to keep new purchases to the minimum. Can school uniform be repaired? If you lack confidence in your own sewing skills, seek help from a professional such as The Zipyard. If uniform has been outgrown, who do you know with kids at the same school? You may be able to pass yours on and/or find someone who's finished with a larger size.

Many schools hold regular pre worn uniform sales, check your PTA social media pages for details. If all else fails, buy new, but buy a larger size/longer length so that it lasts longer, kids grow fast and hems can easily be adjusted.

Before buying a whole new sets of stationery and similar equipment, make sure you check what you have in your house already that could be used again, spending any money saved on an end of holiday trip to the cinema, or ice cream treat instead.

What's for Lunch Charley? - this is an obscure reference to one of my favourite books when I was at primary school (no one else has ever heard of it!).

healthy packed lunch eco friendly lunch box stainless steel
Plan Healthy Packed Lunches

If you or your child takes a packed lunch every day, now is the time to start planning for them. Make a list of favourite healthy lunch options (involve your child in coming up with ideas) and pin it to the inside of a kitchen cupboard door. Plan for each lunch on rotation and use this to create your weekly shopping list. Doing this advance preparation will save you time, avoiding stressful last minute decision making and worrying about whether or not you have the right ingredients.

Test journeys and timings in advance - don't leave journey planning and timings to chance on the first day. It'll be stressful enough getting everyone organised and out of the house after such a long break as it is, without the added anxiety of knowing whether or not you are going to get to the right place on time. Add to this the fact that many schools and local authorities have adopted new "Covid Safe" travel policies such as limiting car drop off, entry via different doors for different year groups and different rules for bus travel. Walk routes in advance (with your children as they tend to walk slower!) and time how long it takes you. If you're driving, you can plan your journey ahead of time on your smartphone using Waze.

Prepare for the fact that this year the return will be different - no matter how organised and prepared we think we are over the next few weeks, there is no doubt that the return to school this year will be very different. With this in mind I asked Clare Cogan, a specialist in acute anxiety, to give us some advice, here's what she has to say...

"The break for our children and teens this year has been much longer than originally anticipated, as they, as well as us, have had to cope with an unprecedented situation. As we have maybe found it hard to get back into ‘everyday life’, feeling a heightened awareness of what is going on around us and the changes which have occurred, so will our children need time to adjust and adapt. The temptation may be to get straight back into existing routines and activities as quickly as possible, but, what lockdown has taught us is that, time has been a luxury over these past few months and many young people I have spoken to have loved having a bit more ‘headspace’ to just ‘be’ without the outside pressures.

Using the transition time back to school to keep this ‘downtime’ as a regular part of a weekly routine can be massively valuable for your child or teenager, helping them process everything which is going on around them. It could be that going back to school is overwhelming for them (and you) to start with, this is normal as we have been out of routine for such a while and acknowledging this can be helpful for the entire family. Creating space to talk about any worries and anxieties, whatever the age of your child or teenager also shows them that it is okay to feel this way, as adults we can feel anxious just as our children can. Having that space to talk about it or even just know that it is a possibility they feel worried or anxious doesn’t ‘make’ them feel this way but supports them to understand and build resilience as they recognise that not everything can always be ‘okay’ but there are always people there to listen and support them."

Please visit Clare's website www.clarecogan.com for more information and blogs on supporting adults and teenagers.

If you have any more tips for stress free back to school/work we'd love to hear about them in the comments below.

Jo Hall is a Berkshire based Declutterer & Organiser

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