In the Native American tradition, September signifies the start of a new year. It certainly feels this way to parents. Whether your kids are toddlers or teens, the start of the school year signifies opportunity, a time for a fresh start and a chance to give yourself permission (read Permission Granted) to do things differently. If you’re feeling some anxiety around the all the transitions, scheduling and driving that usually accompany a new school year, take a deep breath, pause, and consider the following ideas for a simpler, less stressful school year. Adopting even one of these ideas could make a huge difference in how you experience this potentially hectic time. Begin with compassion and baby steps as you consider the following:
1. Identify what’s #1 for your family this fall. What values or new ways of being are most important to you in the upcoming months? Is it having calm mornings, eating dinner together, saying “no,” and not over-scheduling, having dedicated family time, a good homework routine, or a game plan for regular communication? Consider creating a vision board together around your shared values.
2. Set yourself up for success by enlisting a support team. What type of support do you and your family need to feel nourished and nurtured as you transition into the new season? Perhaps a parenting coach or counselor to support a special need, a new carpool team, a source for ready-made healthy meals, or a couple of backup baby sitters for monthly dates with your partner? Line up support now and post your “support team” list in your kitchen where the whole family can see it.
3. Schedule replenishing nature respites. Being in nature elicits a relaxation response; it helps us shed worries and restore and replenish our bodies and minds like nothing else. Pull out your calendar and schedule some family hikes, a father/son camping trip, a visit to a country cabin over a holiday break, or a potluck in a state or city park with your neighbors or friends.
4. Do less to experience more. In our office, we love the mantra, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” A key cause of stress is ambition and trying to do too much. Researchers in the field of positive psychology say we’re happiest when we have fewer options and decisions to make. What can you say “no” to so that you can simplify your family’s life? Our quality of life is enhanced not by adding things, but by letting go of that which we don’t need.
5. Be mindful of technology. In a recent survey I did, families across the United States said overuse of media was the top culprit for derailing their family’s emotional well-being and sense of connectedness. Consider doing an informal family media use survey (include phones, computers, tablets, TV) and create some clear guidelines for how and when your kids can be online, play video games, or use other devices. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping all electronic out of the bedroom and having a “home base” — such as the kitchen — where the phones and digital devices rest at night while everyone in the family gets their sleep.
6. Designate weekends for rest and relaxation (as best you can!). It’s easy to pack our weekends with errands, household cleaning, social activities, sports, and more—but remember that weekend time is sacred. The primary purpose of this 48-hour break is to rejuvenate and restore your energy reserves so you can return to work and school on Monday with a fresh, excited outlook — ready to learn and take on new projects. While spending the entire weekend in a hammock may be unrealistic, realize rest and relaxation are essential to problem solving, idea generation, and creativity (read my blog post on Rest). At least a portion of your weekend — and maybe all day Sunday — should be devoted to physical and emotional renewal.
Decide now how you’ll communicate as a family during the busy fall months. Regular, open, heartfelt communication is key to people feeling heard, seen, safe, and secure, and knowing their ideas matter — especially when schedules are full. Some opt for weekly family meetings (post an agenda on the fridge and have your children add items to the list during the week), some parents have Sunday evening planning meetings after the kids go to bed, and others adopt practices as simple as everyone sharing a “thumbs up and thumbs down” at dinner each night. What would work best for you?
Now’s a great time to mindfully reflect on what has worked and not worked in the past for your family and to explore how you might implement some of these strategies now, so you enter the new school year feeling cool, calm, and connected.
More ideas, exercises, monthly meditations and inspiration on how to reconnect, stress less and experience more balance and harmony in everyday life in my award-winning book Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life (New World Library 2013) and consider joining me for my new fall telecourse Permission Granted: The Art of Extreme Self-Care launching Sept. 11. Ideal for women in transition who are asking, “What’s next?” and want to name/claim the life they truly desire. I’d love to be your coach/mentor during the next few months.
Subscribe here to Live Inside Out, a weekly blog written by life balance teacher/author and Career Strategists president, Renée Peterson Trudeau. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping and more. Thousands of women in ten countries are becoming RTA-Certified Facilitators and leading/joining self-care groups based on her award-winning curriculum. She is the author of The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal and Nurturing the Soul of Your Family: 10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life. She lives in Austin, Texas, with her husband and 12 year-old son. More on her background here.