The summer months often provide families a much needed break with rigorous schedules and daily routines. It’s typically a time that’s more relaxed and not as demanding. Kids tend to stay up later at night and parents aren’t driving them back and forth to as many scheduled activities. But alas, summer is coming to an end and the 2013-2014 school year is about to begin.  

As difficult as it may be to acknowledge, now is the time to start easing back into a school-year routine. If you wait much longer, it’s going to be a lot harder. School brings its own specific demands whether your family is ready or not. Believe me, it’s much better to be ready, so let’s look at some ways to start changing gears.

Tip # 1: Begin with small changes. "Having a predictable routine is essential for every family," says Eric M. Anderman, PhD, a professor of educational psychology at Ohio State University. Families just run smoother when everyone knows what is expected of them and why. Have a family get-together and go over the upcoming school year.

Discuss with your kids the activities they want to be involved in. If it looks like their wants are greater than their needs, organize the activities in order of preference. What’s the one endeavor they really –really want to be a part of above all others – then what is number 2?

Start setting priorities so a manageable schedule can be organized. If your child relies on you to take them to or pick them up from their activities – look at how you can reasonably accomplish that.

If your child is able to drive his or her self, check into how much time the activities are going to demand of them. They are obviously older kids, but still need to get the required amount of sleep they need as well as keep their grades up.

Many families find themselves stretched to the max by trying to fulfill everyone’s desires. Not only is everyone over-booked, but they are stressed-out, don’t get enough sleep and don’t eat healthy meals because there’s just not enough time to get it all done. Create a do-able plan that helps negotiate ways to reasonably make it happen.

Tip # 2: Recommit to a bedtime routine. Kids and adults need a certain amount of sleep to be able to function well during the day. During the summer months it’s not uncommon for kids to stay up later than usual. Parents can get off schedule as well during vacations and weekends. Getting back to a routine can be hard when everyone’s body clock is at odds with early to bed, early to rise. Children who rely on riding the school bus often have to be up and ready earlier in the morning than kids whose parents drive them. Depending on where you fall in the pickup schedule, some kids have to be ready to head out the door by 6:00 am. That’s really early.

Recommitting to an earlier bedtime before the school year begins helps the body and mind prepared to handle those early morning routines before they are actually needed.

"The effect of sleep deprivation on kids is really quite serious," Anderman says. "Their brains just don't function normally on five or six hours of sleep." Neither do adult brains. If everyone is sleep deprived, you can bet with some certainty that there is going to be a lot of grumpy family dynamics going on.

Set a bedtime for your kids and stick to it. Help your kids wind down for bed by getting back in sync with their normal bedtime routine. Begin the bedtime rituals before the appointed hour. Turn off the TV, shut down the computers, close the apps, put down the cell phone, brush teeth, get the glass of water, use the bathroom, read the nighttime book – all the things that need to happen to help prepare your child for getting to sleep on time.

Tip # 3: Eat healthy meals together. Family meals can go by the wayside during the summer. When it’s hot outside, cooking in the kitchen can slow down to a trickle. Fast foods or eating out easily takes the place of homemade meals. Actually, once school begins the fast food habit can even be harder to break because of the demands on time.

Planning ahead can help ease the transition into more healthy meals together. Family meals offer you a time to connect. There's also a clear health benefit. Studies show that kids who eat with their family tend to eat healthier and are less likely to be obese.

Every parent knows that planning ahead and shopping for a week’s worth of groceries takes a little more time. There is no denying that home cooking requires more effort, but the results are a bigger and better payoff.  By planning and preparing meals you have more control over the amount of calories your family is eating and the nutrition they are receiving.

When preparing for the week’s shopping – make a list of what you need. That’s going to require you to think about the upcoming week and the meals you’ll be making. If certain nights are going to be too busy to cook, try planning out a few meals you can cook ahead of time on a day when you have extra time. Have more time on Tuesday? Cook extra chicken breasts you can cut up and throw on lettuce and pre-cut veggies for Wednesday night. Fix a casserole for Monday that can be revisited with different sides on Friday. That’s why God gave us microwave ovens.

Tip # 4: Expect resistance. If you’ve been through the summer to school-year change before, you already know that getting back on track brings resistance. There’s often whining, sulking, tantrums and name calling when the law is laid down. Don’t give in. Stay true to the bedtime routine and time schedule. It will get easier.

If this is your first go-round, expect your child to be anxious or nervous about starting school. Take extra time to reassure them that this is a new adventure and that you will help them adjust to school and any experiences they have. Let them know that school will soon feel familiar and they will make new friends that they look forward to seeing.

Stay calm and let your child know that they can count on you to be there for them.

Tip # 5: Teach by example. Want your kids to appreciate and partake in a healthy lifestyle? Provide one for them and be an active member. Get the sleep you need in order to function well. Eat well as a family so that your children learn to appreciate healthier foods. Exercise together as a family. Exercise is a great stress reliever for everyone. Laugh. Laughter is a way of relieving stress, and growing closer to another. Don’t take yourself or life too seriously. Families need to have fun together as well as sharing responsibilities together. People sometimes forget to just have fun. It doesn’t have to cost anything and you don’t have to go anywhere. It just takes a little imagination, some wit and a positive attitude.

Getting back into or beginning a new routine can be a challenge, but it’s also a necessity to help everyone be able to feel his or her best. Like rituals, routines have their place in life. A new school year is starting and that’s very exciting for everyone. Make it a  great one this year!

Source: R. Morgan Griffin, Hansa D. Bhargava MD, http://www.webmd.com/parenting/raising-fit-kids/recharge/get-your-family-routine-back?print=true