5 Things Dads Can Do to Make the School Year Not Suck

I dread the start of school each year because it means the end of lazy schedules, easy-going evenings, and not worrying about whether or not there’s enough lunch meat for tomorrow’s lunches.  It’s easy for most dads to default to mom to take care of things for the kids, but in our family, with four kids, two working parents, and schedules galore, it’s imperative that I do more than just say, “Hey, let your mom help you with that?”

With that in mind, here are five things that dads can do to make the school year not suck.  (Any parent can do these, of course, but these are written from my perspective as a father.)

5.  Pay Attention to What Needs to Get Done.  School is a lot more work than it was when I was a kid.  There’s homework all the time, letters and emails coming from the teachers and schools on a regular basis, and there’s a lot that needs to happen each week.  Parents have busy lives full of their own things–I had some work pop up in the evening the other day, and I got busy with answering emails and making phone calls–but even a second grader now has a ton of stuff to remember.  And guess what–that 8 year old won’t remember.  That’s my job as a parent.  It’s okay to ignore the work for awhile to help your child stay ahead of the game.

4.  Listen When Your Spouse Tells You What They Need Help With.  There’s nothing more disappointing than setting an expectation and having it not met, especially when it’s as simple as “give your son his practice spelling test–and remember to have him write the words down on this piece of paper.”  The other night, as I took my wife to work, she said this exact thing.  I gave my son his practice spelling test during dinner with the kids and did it the way we did it in first grade–which is not what she asked me to do.  So, for him to be ahead, he had to take his spelling test again, right after breakfast and before we walked out the door.  Not a win for anyone, and it could have been avoided by really listening and making sure you know what’s being asked of you.

3.  Keep Things Enjoyable.  Nobody likes homework.  As a former teacher, I can assure that teachers don’t like it.  Kids don’t like it, and when my 5th grader asks for help with her math and I look at it like she’s just asked me to read her something in Klingon, I’m reminded that I don’t like it, either.  So instead of everyone hating what needs to be done, find ways to make it fun.  Break it up into increments, move it around the room, do it while standing on your head and eating jelly beans.  Make sure you keep the focus on a particular task, but give the kids a break, give yourself a break, and then you’ll find the strength to continue with that ridiculous stuff they call “mathematics” these days.

2.  Don’t Stress Out About Grades.  Let me be honest: I don’t care if my children don’t get straight A’s.  I want them to always do their best, and if their best is a C+, I’m okay with that.  If they are trying like crazy and working with their teacher and still can’t get anything above a D, I’m okay with that, too.  Grades are not a reflection of my child’s character, it’s not a reflection on me, and it certainly isn’t a determination of their future success.  Grades are an arbitrary way of measuring progress, and while the education system places value on them and awards honor roll and scholarships, I’d rather give my kids awards for honesty, being virtuous and kind, and having a good work ethic.  Those will get you farther than an A+ in 3rd grade math.  I want my kids to succeed, yes, but I don’t want them to measure their worth by a letter on a paper.  They are much more valuable than that!

1.  Plan Vacations.  Teachers may not like it, but I find great value in taking my kids out of school during the school year for a break.  Vacations shouldn’t just be in the summer.  What’s wrong with getting out of town for a weekend in October or flying to Walt Disney World in January?  Nothing.  Your kids need a break about every 60 days or so, an escape from the regularity of schedules and assignments and all the stress of school, and frankly, so do you.  It doesn’t have to be extravagant or even long–but a healthy break, away from the everyday will do wonders for your family, for your kids, and keep them motivated through the long weeks of math assignments ahead of them.

The school year can suck.  But trying a few of these simple steps out can help make it less so–for you, and for your kids.

P.S.  I just realized I talked a lot about math in this post.  I don’t hate math, but I was an English teacher, am completely right-brained, and do not enjoy math at all.  If you like math, just read “English” or something else instead.

When You Can’t Fall Asleep, Try This.

I start making your mental checklist for the next day as soon as my head hits the pillow at night.  If you’re like me, doctor appointments, school lunches, getting to the post office are just a few things that we remember when it’s far too late to do anything about it.  Meanwhile, your spouse puts his head on the pillow and begins snoring.  Rather than lie there full of resentment, try one of these simple steps.  It’s helped me put the checklist aside and made falling asleep a little easier.

Exercise.  Even if you’re just getting out for a 30 minute walk each day, exercise is the most important thing to help you sleep.  I know exercise can be a challenge to many people.  Maybe you feel like you don’t have time.  Maybe you have an injury the prevents you from exercising.  Find a way to add some kind of physical activity into your day and you will soon realize that exercise is the key to falling asleep quickly. If you can’t find the time during the day then try some stretching exercises or yoga before you hop in the sack.

Turn off your blue screens and bright lights. Studies have shown that with reduced light from blue screens, smart phones, TVs, computers, or even bright lamps, your brain shuts down quicker.  Keep your room dark, cool, and clean.

Cut out the afternoon cup of pick-me-up.   Check the labels on your favorite midday energy boosting drinks. If they have caffeine, then make the cutoff by 2:00 pm. Instead opt for caffeine-free tea or flavored water if you need something sweet.

Save your healthiest meal for dinner.  Heavy full meals right before bed will not only not digest well, but will give you a restless nights sleep.  Opt for a smaller plate, or even a saucer, for your dinner to keep those calories at bay. And try to avoid late-night snacking. If you get hungry before bed, keep it sweet and simple and stick to fruit.

Wine with dinner, not bed.  Although it’s true that wine will help you relax and fall asleep faster, it will also make the second half of your sleep cycle restless. Alcohol decreases deep sleep and increases arousals from sleep.

Try to practice at least one of these sleep habits at a time. Sleep not only improves memory, but also increases your metabolism.  The benefits of sleep far outweigh what we didn’t get done during the day. If you have any other tips or tricks for a good night’s sleep, let me know!