Back to School: The Power of Routine

The transition from summer break to the school year can be challenging for children and families alike. Shifts in bedtimes, early mornings, after-school activities, and homework completion are changes that can increase stress and wear on patience. Creating a routine helps children predict what lies ahead. It also supports development of organization and planning skills, both of which benefit children’s independence and self-management abilities. Finally, routine is especially important for creating healthy self-care and personal wellness practices. Modeling how to plan and carry out a routine are ways families can support their children in navigating the back-to-school transition. It is never too late to build new habits, and there are many approaches to take. The following is a menu of options you can sample from and see what works best for your child:

  1. Practice good sleep habits. During the summer, kiddos may have enjoyed later bedtimes, sleeping in, and more time on TV and computers. School demands increase fatigue and it is important that children are well-rested. Good sleep supports abilities to cope with stressors, concentrate, learn, and maintain physical health. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 11-13 hours of sleep per night for preschoolers (3-5 years old), 9-11 hours for school-aged children (6-13 years old), and 8-10 hours for teenagers. The following are a few pointers for building healthy sleep patterns:
    • Make sleep a priority!
    • Set a bedtime, wakeup time, and stick to them.
    • Make the bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.
    • Keep TV and computers out of the bedroom and limit screen time before bed.
    • Limit eating, drinking, and physical exercise before bedtime.
    • Limit caffeine intake such as coffee, caffeinated sodas and teas, and chocolate.
    • Establish a “bedtime routine” such as taking a bath, brushing teeth, or reading a book. This cues the brain that it is time to sleep.
  2. Set aside time to do something enjoyable with your child. It may be as simple as grabbing a favorite snack at the grocery store, walking to the park, playing a game, or watching a movie. Making a point to schedule time for relaxation and fun helps children get a mental break from the demands of school and have time to enjoy just being a kid. Taking these positive breaks can be rejuvenating. It also supports children’s understanding of how to build healthy personal wellness practices as they get older.
  3. Collaboratively create a “calm corner” for your child when they are overwhelmed or need to reset. Calm corners are different than time outs. They are special spaces to be used when a child needs a break. Breaks are especially important when a child is upset, stressed, overwhelmed, irritable, or exhausted. Helping children identify when they need to use their calm corner supports growth of emotion regulation skills. It also builds abilities to tune into stress levels and use positive coping strategies. To create a calm corner:
    • Find a place in the home that is calm and quiet. This may be in a bedroom, at the kitchen table, in the corner of the living room, on the couch, or somewhere in the yard. Simply find a space that is calming for your child.
    • Choose items and activities that can be used in that space. Some children prefer to draw, while others may need to hug a stuffed animal. Teenagers may have music they find calming, while others might prefer silent solitude.
    • Once your child is calm, support them in reflecting on what worked to decrease stress. This may include simple questions (What happened before you felt upset? What helped you calm down?) or allowing the child to write down their thoughts. Supporting self-reflection allows your child to identify coping strategies that are most effective for them.
  4. Create and maintain an after-school schedule. The school day is very structured. Knowing what to expect in the after-school hours helps children mentally prepare and eases the transition from school to home. Here are some tips on building an after-school routine:
    • Discuss the after-school schedule with your child.
    • Post the schedule on the fridge or another frequented area of the home.
    • Provide reminders prior to transitions. For example, give a five-minute reminder before homework or bedtime.
    • Schedule breaks! Children are often exhausted after the school day. Many children benefit from downtime or calming breaks between activities.
    • Use timers to build planning and organizational skills by allowing children to see how long they have to complete tasks.

For other back-to-school resources, check out ADDitude’s webinar series at Upcoming webinars include “7 No-Fail Strategies for Getting Homework Done on Time and Without Drama” on September 10, and “Time for Bed!: Sleep Solutions for the ADHD Brain” on September 25.

We hope that finding the right routine for your child will ease the transition back to school and help build healthy habits. For more great ideas check out our blog ( and follow us on Facebook (

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