Tag Archives: back to school

Kids ‘n Stuff

Part 3 of 5 in the “Five Most Common Back-to-School Problems and How To Fix Them” series.

THE #3 PROBLEM ~ Stuff Management, or how to avoid the daily  “Have you seen my . . . . . . . .backpack, lunch box, sport shoes, violin, maths book, rugby socks, glasses, glue stick? What’s the best way to help your kids manage their stuff so it can be found, used, cleaned, read, written-in and turned-in to the right place at the right time?

Like learning how to get up on time and eat healthfully, learning how to manage stuff is probably one of the most important lessons that 10+ years in school will offer your child.

See if these 3 ideas help.


Stuff needs a home. Unless you’ve got a place for everything, everything will never be in place. Brainstorm with your kids – they’re probably way more creative and inventive than you. Then together welcome the stuff to its home base.

Where will it be?

  • Hooks in the front hall?
  • Cubbies in the closet?
  • Huge hampers in the playroom?
  • A bedroom corner?


How is the stuff ever going to get to home-base?” By your children being willing to consistently use the structure you’ve put in place.

And why would they?” Because you care enough to train them.

It’s the rare child who defaults to tidy. But you can get kids on board if it’s important to you.


Like everything else I write about – by having a conversation with your child/ren along the lines of:

OK team, I’m resigning as “Chief Stuff Manager.” Now you’ve each got your very own stuff hamper in the front hall and it’s up to each of you to think about how to manage your stuff. Here’s home base. If you take something out, put it back when you’re done. If you find someone else’s item elsewhere – pop it in their hamper. If you’re looking for something of yours – look in the hamper. What else can we do?”

You can figure out some fun additional tips and rules if this seems to add to the buy in.


This is key.

Your kids will test your resolve as the newly resigned “Chief Stuff Manager.”

So, on day 3 when Mike’s in a total morning panic because he can’t find his left soccer shoe, ask yourself:

“What is ultimately best for Mike? That he have this chance to learn an important life lesson about being responsible for his own things so one day he might be responsible with other people’s things – their business, money, projects, work? Or is it better for him to see that rules can be bent and commitments broken so other people can rescue him?”

Answer honestly.


In the face of missing stuff ask:

“Whose problem is this? Who could most benefit from this life lesson?”

Eggs, PopTarts or?

Part 2 of 5 in the “Five Most Common Back-to-School Problems and How To Fix Them” series.

THE #2 PROBLEM ~ Making time for a healthy breakfast

If you and your family have a system that works so everyone leaves the house having something nutritious on board, this post is not for you. I’d love to hear what you do though – can you send me some tips?

But, judging by some recent conversations I’ve had, it’s quite common to find ~

  • A child who won’t eat breakfast
  • A child who eats breakfast, but not a very healthy one
  • A child who eats very, very slowly
  • A child who is a moving target every morning so breakfast is a battle of wills and/or “catch”
  • A family where breakfast is a sibling battle ground

What to do?

Pick a time to have a chat about school morning breakfasts, maybe over a more leisurely meal on the weekend. When your family is not rushed and is feeling resourceful, ASK

~  WHY are the problems, well…problems?

Be prepared to take notes. Why is Alice not eating breakfast? Does she feel anxious, fat, rushed, not hungry?  Why is Brian mainlining sugar? How come Claire eats so s..l..o..w..l..y..? What does this get her? More attention? What’s with Eddie’s morning mischief – he runs laps around the kitchen grabbing bites of toast on each circuit — because? And yes, the twins bug one another 24/7, but could there be a school-morning-breakfast truce?

 ~  WHAT needs to happen?

Depends on the WHY.  Take the time to go kid by kid, issue by issue. Let’s take Alice. Can she talk to you about her mornings? Could be she simply isn’t a cereal girl and that’s what the family loves. But she’d eat toasted bagels and cream cheese. If she thinks she’s fat then a visit to a nutritionist to talk about weight loss might help. If she’s stressed about her school days, find out what’s going on at school and help her find some solutions.

~  WHOSE problem is it?

While I’m quick to encourage parents to let kids experience the natural consequences of their actions, there are some issues that need parental help. Our children’s behaviours are symptoms. A child who can get up and eat a healthy breakfast is demonstrating he or she is healthy by being symptom-free (in this one area at least!). A child who can’t get out of bed and won’t eat a nutritious breakfast is generating behavioural symptoms that may need attention.

 ~  HOW to make it better?

If you’re worried about your child not eating, or eating poorly, take charge. If you’ve brainstormed ways to help but the unhelpful or unhealthy behaviour persists, reach out to a doctor, nutritionist or family therapist. Not eating can be a sign of a number of “symptoms” that are better sorted sooner than later.


Breakfasts matter. Know your kid. Show you care.

Sleepy Kids

THE #1 PROBLEM ~ Kids oversleeping on school-mornings.

Pick a time after school to talk about what went wrong that morning – don’t attempt these conversations in the heat of  lateness.  When you and your kid are up for a chat,  ASK

 ~  WHY is this happening?

Ask your kid what’s getting in the way of them hopping out of bed on time. Late night movie? Giggling with a sleepover guest? Dreading the day? Bed too darn cozy?

~  WHAT needs to happen? 

Depends on the WHY doesn’t it.  Too late to bed? Re-establish bedtime. Giggling guests? Maybe no mid-week sleepovers. Dreading the day? Is there something stressful today or is every morning tough? One stressful morning you can problem-solve quickly, but a pattern of not liking school needs more. (Watch for a post about this.) Bed too darn cozy? Indeed! This kid needs to work their discipline muscle!

~  WHOSE problem is it?

Remember parents, this is your child’s life. For kids in primary and intermediate school, getting up and heading off to learn is their job. Having them climb into their own life begins with getting out of bed. (See HOW below for ideas to make this more fun). If older teens are resisting school at this point, check in. Are they just reluctant because it’s not fun but they know they’ll see school through? Or might they be experiencing a very real emotional response to an environment that is not suited to their learning? (Watch for a post on “Rebellious Teens”).

 ~  HOW to make it better?

For younger kids, increasing their responsibility is fun. Resign from alarm-clock duties. Buy one and teach your child how to tell time and set their own clock. Buy a stopwatch so your child can time themselves each morning and strive for “personal bests” (never make this a race between siblings!). Make the morning routine calm, predictable and with highlights (tasty breakfast?). Ask your kids – “How can we make getting up more fun?”


How you handle any issue with your child will do one of two things: it will bring you closer and your child will feel:

  • My folks are on my team
  • They believe in me
  • They know I can solve my own problems
  • They think I can be successful
  • They care about what I feel
  • They help me figure out what I need


it will push you apart and your child will feel:

  • My folks aren’t on my team
  • They don’t believe in my abilities
  • They think I’m too dumb to solve my own problems
  • They think I am a looser
  • They don’t care about how I feel
  • They have no idea about what I need


Back-to-School Problems . . .

. . . . and how to solve them.

After six weeks of fun, sun, boredom, beaches, lazy mornings and stress-free evenings it’s back-to-school time for the southern hemisphere.

I’ve been enjoying the mixed reactions of clients, some of whom have been counting the days until their kids are out from under-foot, some of whom have been dreading the discipline and scheduling that schooling demands.

Whether you’re delighted or daunted by the rhythms of school, here are the five most common problems families face and some tips for how to deal with them.


How do you get the sleepy heads out of bed with enough time for dressing, basic hygiene, breakfast and the commute to school?

  1. First, figure out who needs to be where and when so you know what you are shooting for.
  2. Involve  the kids in figuring out how much time each person needs to be at the right place at the time. How much time does each kid estimate he or she needs for actually getting out of bed once they are awoken? For dressing, teeth and hair, breakfast, puttering about?  If you involve the child in this sort of planning they begin to get a sense for how they operate and, they have no one to blame but themselves if they are late. Even Year 1 children can start to take responsibility for their morning habits and how long each project will take.
  3. Make a contract. Once you’ve established that Sarah needs to be at the bus stop at 7:50am and she needs 50 minutes for all her morning tasks, then her feet need to hit the floor at 7:00am. If she buys into this she is less likely to blame you or rebel when 7:00am rolls around each morning.
  4. Don’t BE the alarm, BUY one. The last thing parents need to be is their child’s wake up call. Painful as it is to be tossed from a warm bed you don’t want your child associating this rude start to a day with you! Kids love to get their own alarm, learn how to set it, and take responsibility to their morning routine.
  5. Make mornings calm. Once you have a routine for these morning tasks, keep to them. Kids love the world to be predictable so the more you remind them of how their mornings will go and the more they indeed see mornings unfolding this way, the more the world will seem to be a safer place.
  6. Make mornings fun.  One family I know invested in some stop watches and encouraged their kids to time themselves from wake up to leaving the house. Then, each day they got to see if they could beat that time and establish a “personal best” .  Don’t encourage siblings to race one another – that leads to tears and fights. But with personal bests – everybody wins.


How do you get everyone up and out with something nutritious on board?

  1. First, figure out your family’s priorities. Some families love to gather together for breakfast before they all set off. These can be simple meals like cereal and fruit, or scrambled eggs and toast. But if this is what your family loves to do – build in time for this. If you’ve got a bunch of non-morning people who prefer to nibble on a bagel and cream cheese on their own schedule – then so be it.
  2. Shop accordingly. The last thing you want on a Monday morning is to be scouring the fridge for the loaf you thought was there and finding nothing. Provision the fridge for easy to find and serve breakfast items.
  3. Delegate as much as possible. Even small children can be set up to reach the mini cereals, bowls, spoons and small milk jug on a low shelf in the fridge so they can be independent  – if this is how your family likes to operate.
  4. Keep food choices simple. Even if you feel strongly that you’d like to prepare a cooked breakfast for your family, avoid too many choices. Offering toast or muffins, white bread or brown, eggs fried or scrambled, hot chocolate, tea or coffee is all too much. Just put a plate of something you know your child likes in front of them. If you get the “Yuk I don’t want scrambled eggs today” you’d be wise to stay firm. “This is today’s menu my darling. Lunch time will come around and I expect you’ll be ready for your sandwich by then!” Unless you want to be a highly stressed short order cook each morning – be careful how you handle this one!
  5. If you’ve opted for the “everybody can graze on their own” breakfast option, be sure to have nutritious things on hand:  yogurt, hard boiled eggs, peanut butter, sliced fruits, bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon.


How to avoid the “Mum! Dad! Have you seen my . . [choose one or more..] backpack, library book, science project, note for the teacher, violin, lunch box, water bottle, PE clothes, homework, text book?”

  1. Create a place for everything. Think “What comes home needs a home.”
  2. Let me say that again – everything needs a place to go so that everyone knows what goes where and puts it there: well, mostly.  Think about how you want to sort things.
  3. Sort by owner: This can be a large wicker basket for each child for everything of theirs – anything of Joe’s gets tossed in the brown basket. Everything of Mary’s goes in the tan basket.
  4. Sort by use: water bottles and lunch tubs go on the kitchen counter; musical instruments go carefully in the study by the piano; homework goes in the study on the desk.
  5. Sort by need: dirty uniforms and PE clothes go in the laundry hamper; teacher notes that Mum or Dad need to read go on the office space in the kitchen.
  6. At the end of the evening, each child should be responsible for reassembling their pack. Is homework done and back in the pack? Has the violin been practiced and is it back by the door? Fresh PE clothes packed? Notes for teacher signed and back in the pack?
  7. Important: Mum and Dad, ask yourselves, “who’s problem is it if something gets lost or left behind?”  Is this your problem or your child’s problem? There’s many a parent who stresses over a lost homework assignment much more than the child who stands to loose the grade. The consequences for not tracking his or her stuff will never be as light as they are now for your child in school. Setting up systems is the parents’ job. Teaching your children how to use these systems is the parents’ job. Actually participating in the systems successfully – that’s your child’s job.


How to master the fine art of the school lunch box without fuss, muss or stress?

  1. Start off with the conversation – “What do you like for lunch at school?” Not that you have to produce everything junior wants, but as your child lists off, “salt and vinegar chips, chewy sweets, a fizzy drink and a banana” – make a note of the one or two things you might be wiling to include!
  2. Think in terms of the 3 main food groups: protein, vegetable, and grain or starch.
  3. Brainstorm with your child his or her 5 favourite forms of protein: hard boiled eggs, slices of cheese, sliced meats, smoked fish or meat, small tins of tuna, smoked tofu, peanut butter, salted almonds, or?
  4. Brainstorm with your child his or her 5 favourite forms of vegetable: carrot sticks, celery sticks, a small cole slaw, mini tomatoes, avocado, snap peas, seaweed salad, or?
  5. Brainstorm with your child his or her 5 favourite forms of grain or starch: crisps, crackers, bagels, bread, pasta, rice or?
  6. Make a generic shopping list of all these favourite items and be sure to keep these items on hand during school times.
  7. Delegate. Even if you have a young child you can work together the night before (or in the morning if this works better for you) to put a helping of each of the main food categories into a lunch box. Tuck in a small bottle of water and a piece of fruit and you’ve worked with your child to establish a healthy food habit for life.
  8. Don’t forget left-overs. In our family we deliberately make twice as much dinner as we know we’ll eat so everyone takes a plastic container of left-overs for lunch, along with some nuts and a piece of fruit.
  9. If you are running out of ideas, ask your kids what their friends eat? Check out web sites for simple but tasty lunch ideas.


Or, why is this not called “Home Fun”?

  1. For each child, look into what the homework expectations are. Some schools try to minimize the amount of work brought home. Some schools expect there to be from 2 to 4 hours more study each night.
  2. See if your child’s understanding of the amount of work brought home is the same as the teacher’s… if not clarify!
  3. Before jumping in to help, see if your child actually needs your help. Might be they enjoy being self-motivated in which case you only need to step in if their work is not getting done or it is not up to snuff.
  4. Everyone talks about making a special place for homework – so I might as well too. Make a place! It really is key to establish where your young scholar can spread out and do some writing, reading and thinking with minimal distractions. Will it be the kitchen table, counter, office, or den? When my daughter inherited our lovely old double bed – which feels huge to her – she declared it her office and that’s where she sets up her homework center.
  5. What about those distractions? The inevitable presence of the TV, radio, iPod, cell phone and social network opportunities? In terms of how much parents need to get involved in helping minimize these distractions, the key here is to know your child. Ask yourself and them about their ability to work while distracted. Watch them – can they handle five things at once and still produce quality work?  If they can, you job is easy – just keep your low profile monitoring radar on. If they clearly can’t you’ll need to have a conversation about this.
  6. This is potentially such a big topic! Let me know if you want a whole blog dedicated to kids and today’s electronic distractions. I’d be happy to produce one!

                                    GOOD LUCK

As I  always say – if you have a conversation that heads south, you can always try again. And if things really are not working – send me a note. I always respond, gemma@gemmautting.com