Mind Matters — Back To School and Beyond

School is in session again, and the busyness begins. Or maybe it never ended.

Parents with school aged children are back to juggling schedules: work, homework, soccer, band practice, and on and on. Then there are the parents whose children span an array of ages from babyhood to middle school. This brings a different passel of problems, and joys too.

There are a few guidelines to remember however as autumn’s chill arrives.

A loving home environment needs to include structure, stability, and safety. Research has shown that family meals play an important role in providing children these things. Why is this important? Family dinner especially provides a time of connection and unity in everyone’s hectic schedules. Everyone’s cell phone could be turned off or put in a basket. Parents and kids can then discuss their day together. Of course, this takes some learning in empathic listening. Each person at the table—not at the TV—gets to speak about themselves without critical judgment from anyone else. My mother used to say, never bring anger or conflict to the dinner table—save the disturbing conversation for later. Good advice for good digestion.

Family meals may bring fear to the hearts of those responsible for the cooking. For one, this is not about family preparations. Healthy dinner can be as simple as soup and salad. For another, preparation can be delegated: different nights of the week to different family members, for example.

Beyond family dinners, structure, stability and safety are also provided to children through scheduling homework time, and bedtime, and limiting electronic time: TV, computer, cell phone, who knows what. As children grow, the schedules change to suit their maturation level. It all sounds so simple and straight forward, yet, in reality, it is not always so easy to implement. There needs also to be a balance of work and play for both children and parents. Play gives both children and parents delight—joy even! End of summer, I watch wondrous examples of this.

Evening light descends upon a pool. A little girl is thrilled that she can dive and jump off the board—and so she does, over and over, mother treads the water, visibly elated, fully living the moment. My nephews too, are happily jumping off the board with younger brother repeating his new found swim strokes to the side of the pool, play, and learning happening while parents take time for joy in the present too. Let us be schooled too in such summer moments.