The Back-To-School Transition Is Hell, Here's How To Make It Suck Less

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
Portland Press Herald / Getty Images

I don’t know about you, but summers in our house are laaaaaazy. And we love it. I have one early bird, but the other two kids roll out of bed around 8:30-9-ish most mornings. They eat breakfast whenever they want, sometimes not at all. They eat lunch whenever they want, sometimes not at all. And I can’t tell you how many days I looked at them around 5 p.m. and asked, “Did anyone eat lunch?” and they grunted, not looking up from YouTube or Fortnite, so we just rolled right into dinnertime.

RELATED: Take Instagram-Worthy Photos With These First Day Of School Signs

Sure, we hit the library and parks and did some camps. We read books and did puzzles and went on vacations. But a lot of our summer (like A LOT) was unstructured and lazy and glorious. And now it’s over and TBH, I’m a little scared.

We’re jumping back into get your shoes on-where is your homework-OMG eat your breakfast already-yes you have to wear underwear to school-WHERE ARE YOUR SHOES on the daily. And although I don’t think we are ever quite ready for the smack in the face that back-to-school can bring, there are at least a few things we can do to soften the blow.

1. Remember that kids are kids.

There’s no way to hit the ground running that first week without them getting tired. You hope they don’t melt down until Friday after school, but it could be earlier. So get ready, have a little extra patience and loving hugs on hand, and remember that being mentally and physically exhausted sucks. Their little minds are getting inundated with new information, they are navigating the choppy waters of new friendship circles as they learn that last year’s BFF is in another class, and they are readjusting to the structure of an 7-hour day without hourly trips to the fridge or pantry.

2. Start preparing BEFORE 9 p.m. on the eve of the first day.

Waiting until the last hour to organize backpacks, pick out clothes, and try to get them to bed at a normal time is a recipe for disaster. Instead, start waking them up a bit earlier each day the week prior while getting back to your bedtime routine as well. Like, remember nightly reading? And getting into PJs at 8, brushing teeth, and going to sleep like normal human children? I know they’ve fallen asleep in a haze of Dorito crumbs while watching Star Wars until 10 p.m. all summer, but that ship is sailing away, friends. It’s time to jump ashore to reality-ville where structured bedtimes and personal hygiene live. I know, I know. I’m swimming right alongside you—trust me.

3. Have your kids write something—literally.

This one might make you groan, but have your kids write something — with an actual writing utensil, such as a “pen” or “pencil.” They will suffer hand cramps if they’ve done nothing but swipe their phones or press video game buttons for two months. How about a letter to Grandma about how their summer went? Grandparents LOVE real mail. And your kids will use his hand muscles again and get blood flowing back to those fingertips. It’s a win-win.

4. Bring regular meals back.

My kids have spent their lazy ass summer eating hour-long lunches zoned out on nerf battle YouTube marathons, but that’s not going to fly come September. I’m not saying you have to set a timer for 22 minutes and set it on the table, but a few gentle reminders that they’re going to need to pick up the pace while chewing isn’t a bad idea.

5. Why not throw bathing and getting dressed in actual clothes in there too?

Your kids might have lived in the same PJs for several days in a row this summer and may have only worn underpants on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but you know they’ll need regular hygiene (and underpants) so it’s best to bring that back into their routine at least a few days before school starts. (Especially because they might need 2-3 good scrubs to get all that summer grime off before you take the chalkboard-holding “1st day pic” to put on social media.)

6. While you’re at it, it’s probably a good idea to make sure your kids have clothes that actually fit.

When they live in bathing suits and pajamas all summer, it’s easy to forget that they need actual shoes with laces and actual pants that touch the floor in order to not get destroyed socially by the other kids on the playground. So make sure you rummage through their closets and take inventory of what they need. In my opinion, you don’t really need a full “back to school” wardrobe before that first day. We tend to shop here and there—grab a couple pairs of pants when they are on sale, transfer all of big brother’s hand-me-downs into little brother’s drawers one fall Saturday, etc. But they at least need shoes that fit and something to wear that says “my mom gives at least one tiny fuck” when they meet their teachers for the first time.

7. For some kids, writing out the school routine helps.

Having a master calendar, or even having individual calendars for each kid may help everyone keep track of their lives. In our kitchen, we have a homework station for each child—a basket for papers and reminders and a dry-erase board for each of them with that week’s reminders about sports, assignments, projects, etc. so we can keep it all straight. (Three kids is a hell of a lot of kids, I’ve learned.) Also, writing out the nightly routine and morning routine helps.

Make a checklist—Homework done and put back into backpack so you’re not scrambling to find it in the morning? Outfit picked out that’s mom-approved to avoid morning battles? Lunch made? Snack packed? Teeth brushed? And a similar list could be created for the morning that includes lunchbox, gym clothes, water bottle, musical instrument on lesson days, library books on library days, etc. I’m not super organized (and by “not super organized,” I mean I’m often a hot-mess-meets-train-wreck kind of mom) so I’ve definitely learned over the years a trick or two about keeping our shit together.

8. Keep some of the summer fun traditions going—just so your kids don’t think life royally sucks now.

Even though we can’t do movie nights five nights a week anymore, we still do them pretty much every Friday. They get to stay up late, not worry about brushing their teeth before bed, and sleep in on Saturdays. Because if you blink, it’s Sunday night. And here we go again.

9. Remind your kids that it’s okay to mess up.

Like, always in life, but particularly at the start of the school year when everything is new. Remember when you were a kid and got lost trying to find the cafeteria? Or couldn’t get your locker open? Hell, I can’t tell you how many times I fucked up IN COLLEGE. So this is a good time to make sure your children realize that all the kids in school are learning, adjusting, and figuring it out. That walking into the wrong homeroom doesn’t actually equal the catastrophic armageddon they envision in their minds. And that tomorrow will be better.

10. And finally, remember that you’re all in survival mode right now.

This is probably not the best time to experiment with a new recipe that takes 5 hours to cook and no one will like. Or to fight your kid to the death over her outfit in the mornings. Is she wearing clothes? Good. Go to school. Pick your battles, parents, and serve up some mac and cheese these first few weeks until everyone gets the hang of it all.

Good luck, kids! And parents! (Because let’s be honest, you need it as much as they do.)

This article was originally published on