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How to Not Battle with your Teen this Back-to-School Season

As summer flies by, both too quickly and too slowly, our parent coaching often shifts toward preparing for the start of the school year.

Erratic schedules, academic pressures and earlier wake up times can quickly derail summer progress. 

Here are some of our tips to help you set up a rhythm and routine and to help your family thrive through this transition.

Get back on track with sleep:

It is no secret that sleep matters. Nor is it a secret that kids tend to prefer to stay up late and sleep in. But one of the most underrated solutions for struggling teens, during the school year, is as simple as just getting into better sleep routines.

In a study of almost 28,000 teens published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, psychology researchers found that most were getting far less sleep than the recommended 9 hours. What was even more alarming, was that with each lost hour of sleep, there were increases in feelings of sadness and depression. In addition, sleep deprivation in teens reduced executive brain function which is the area responsible for self-control and judgment.

Here are a few more of the physical benefits of sleep:

  • The body needs sleep to restore and rebuild what it has used during the day. We need to recover.
  • The brain needs sleep to turn on genes that are only awakened when our body sleeps.
  • The brain needs to sleep so that it can clear out the gunk between cells to make room for a new day.
  • The brain needs sleep to better consolidate and record memories, experiences and to increase our ability to be creative and solve problems.

The fact is that our teens and some young adults NEED 9 hours of sleep, per the latest research. But the staying up late and sleeping in routine is not a set-up for success heading into school.

Back-to-School Sleep Tips

  • In the days prior to school starting; ideally a week before the first day, get your child/children into a sleep schedule that models the school week. This will help the body’s natural clock begin to reset a bit and sets the stage for a rhythm.
  • Assess the pros and cons of your technology set up at home and if rules need to shift for the school year to support the new sleep routine.
  • Set up the bedroom as a place for sleep, not a place for playful escape.
  • Turn lights down low in the house and all screens off an hour before the house heads to sleep.
  • Role model! Sleep is not just for our teens, we need it too!

Here’s how to wake up your sleepy head without exhausting yourself:

Many of the families we worked with over the years have shared the exhausting pattern of waking up their child, which often ignites tension for everyone first thing in the morning. We believe it is important that your child starts to take responsibility for wake up time (and if they are getting enough sleep then it is not as tough to wake up). However, we also believe that parents can take on a relational role here, without being the “get out of bed” drill sergeant. We want to help abate the number of times your child blames you for not waking them up on time so…

  • Be clear with yourself and your child about the role you are willing to take on. Perhaps you are willing to come into their room once to connect and then they are on their own, or maybe you are willing to offer 2 wake up calls. Have limits and be clear about them but don’t take on all of the responsibility.
  • Wake your child up in the morning with the intention of seeing their sweet face, this child you love, just to connect. This can sound like, “Good morning. I am working on breakfast if you want some. Start getting yourself up. Love you.”
  • Give your child an alarm clock (not a cell phone alarm, to support the process). If there is a cell phone in the room for an alarm, you can be sure your child is on that device through the night.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable

There will probably be times when your child doesn’t wake up on time. Your responsibility isn’t to eliminate all consequences for your child. Your responsibility is to sit with your own discomfort when your child doesn’t wake up on time, and be ok with the consequences. 

When you fire yourself as a wake-up drill sergeant, allow for natural consequences from the school (or from your own parenting values) and make your only job in this wake-up scenario to express love, connection and sympathy, the morning routine changes on its own for the better.

School-Year Systems:

Help your child by creating systems together, allowing your child to lead and you to guide. The more solid systems that are in place will help the morning go smoothly.

Use the word systems; it’s a great word to use in helping our kids increase their executive functioning capabilities. If the system doesn’t work, your job is to allow for them to experience the pros and cons of system they implemented, and then, after a few days with it, help them find ways to create a better one.

Set-up academic support from the start:

If there were struggles in the past school year with:

  • Getting homework completed
  • Time management
  • Meeting GPA expectations

then try starting the year off with a different routine and implement added support from the beginning. Later on down the road, your child can earn their way out of the extended support once a foundation of consistency and follow through is illustrated.

Homework Tips

  • Have a clear homework routine at home. A place (ideally not on the bed), in a common room area where there can be quiet, where homework gets completed.
  • If a screen is necessary for getting homework done, figure out ways to download material so that you can turn the WiFi off during homework hour so that children have fewer temptations to surf the web while working.
  • Keep phones away from the homework area with the ringer off. This will eliminate the temptation to pick up their phone every time they hear dings of social media.
  • Find tutors and executive functioning coaches that your child can work with from the start of the school year and try to set this up outside of the home. The more you can keep homework outside of the home, the more the tone at home can be focused on family and recovery time.
  • While extracurricular expectations are important and your child’s engagement in life outside of academics is key to health, make sure no one is over scheduled. Your child has a lifetime of stress and the culture of “busy” to get into if they choose. Don’t start the trend now.

Encourage a balanced, full and fun life for your child.

Academic success is only one puzzle piece in your child’s overall health. We often talk about how school is their “job” at this age and that is true, however, we also need to support balance and enjoyment of childhood. Help make time with friends a priority as well, along with other interests your child has.

When your teen just wants to game:

If your child is more introverted and tends to escape into their avatar in video games for self-esteem, make sure you are requiring balance in some way. Find a physical activity that can be done without having to be on a team. Join a climbing gym or have them get on the water and paddle. They may not be team oriented in the real world even though they are online, so find activities where there is not a whole team to let down or depend on, but still helps your child engage.

Boundaries for Better Balance:

  • If your child is unwilling to engage in balance, there is no need for the video game console to exist in your home.
  • Help your child ask for healthy solitude without just escaping into isolation. “I need time to myself to chill out a bit” is far more likely to get support than storming off and a door slam.

Parents, please let your friends know that we have specific guidance for each of these areas and more so that you don’t have to struggle through the school year. To learn more about how we can help, please visit our parent coaching services page.

Founders Hilary Moses & Jen Murphy

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