Backpacks and loose-leaf binders slide down the seasonal aisles of your favorite chain stores as back to school approaches. Millions of parents across the country enthusiastically wait for their children to be in school after the strangest year of most of their lives.
If you are one of them, you can make adjustments to your home that can help support this late transition to normalcy. “Sitting in front of a computer was exceptionally difficult for most children and teens, being constantly stuck at home as an added stressor,” says the Connecticut-based child psychologist and author of It’s OK: Proven Ways to Improve Your Child’s Mental Health, Roseann Capanna-Hodge.
San Diego-based interior designer Susan Wintersteen has years of experience creating healthy homes for families. Both professionals provide wellness design advice from their unique perspectives to help your students adjust to an unprecedented new school year.
1. Rearrange and update
“Refreshing or creating new spaces for learning and play time is a great way to kick off the new school year,” suggests Capanna-Hodge. “Thinking about what activities they will do while learning and what spaces they need is a great place to start. Maybe it’s a redesigned homework zone or a redesigned closet for new school clothes, notes the psychologist: “Going back to school means we should also think about what our spaces need to help our children be ready to learn. ”
2. Support healthy sleep
Children need more sleep than adults, and with stress, excitement, and electronics, many just don’t get enough. Wintersteen observes: “Making children’s bedrooms more sleep-friendly requires good light control. She recommends adding dimmers to their bedroom lighting to make it easier to sleep and wake up. (A smart home system could work in this regard as well.) She also emphasizes the need to prevent outside light from radiating into space. “Window coverings that darken the room create opportunities to rest and allow light to enter when open. ”
3. Create a kid-friendly kitchen space
Capanna-Hodge has seen an increase in the emotional eating of children since the start of the pandemic, she reports. “When it comes to stressful eating, it not only means making changes to what we eat, when and how much we eat, it also means changing the way the kitchen is set up. Taking away easy access to snack foods and having healthier options readily available can be a start. She suggests creating what you might call a kid-friendly kitchen area. (For safety reasons, it should be placed out of work aisles, such as the one between the sink and the cooking surface; the outside or end of an island are often ideal places.) Eat and reinforce self-esteem, “notes the psychologist, adding:” The way your kitchen is set up can encourage not only healthy eating, but also children’s taking charge of their own health.
4. Personalize their spaces
Children should have a say in the design of their spaces, advises Wintersteen, which may include their kitchen-based children’s areas, bedrooms, bathrooms, play and study spaces. “Surrounding yourself with things that bring us joy and comfort can be beautiful and functional. It is important to add elements of colors that they like, textures that they like and allow them to be part of the design process, ”comments the designer. It’s easier with children of old age to communicate their preferences, she says. For younger family members, she suggests using visual cues like photos to help them identify their choices. From there, parents and designers can create functional, kid-friendly and welcoming spaces for them that will match their personality.
5. Create safe spaces
Most of us have experienced some level of emotional stress during the pandemic, as have children and adolescents across the country. “The biggest stressor for parents and children when they return to school is the fear that we will have another 40 and all the progress we have made will be lost,” shares Capanna-Hodge. “Making our homes a safe haven is a way to give control to children and their parents at a time when the world seems so out of control,” she suggests. This can include device-free areas that focus on mindfulness activities like arts and crafts, yoga, prayer, and meditation. (Exercise and sport would be another option.) “Whether it’s a room or a space devoted to an activity that helps regulate and calm the nervous system, involve children in the process. creating these spaces and using them as a family makes personal care a priority that hopefully your child will continue on their own, ”she adds.
6. Help kids declutter
Mental health professionals say the mess can create stress, and designer Wintersteen agrees. “The clutter in children’s rooms – and let’s face it, they’re cluttered by default – is extra stress on their minds and eyes.” The designer points out how difficult it can be for kids to get organized without a system in place for them to do so. “Typically, a child needs a place for everything, where to find their books and see the titles, where to store their laundry and a place for their favorite toys. Getting this before the start of the school year can be helpful in their readjustment.
7. Promote independence
Capanna-Hodge recommends that you rethink your space to help your children be more independent. “Think about what needs to be changed to help children manage their chores and ‘stuff’ independently. Do you need to rework the locker room or the kitchen office so that they have a place for their belongings without having to “hassle” them? Since they have been absent from a regular school schedule for a long time, the return to routine will not be automatic, she predicts. Posted checklists, schedules, and timers are great tools, she suggests. “When the environment is set up in a visual and logical way, kids can learn to follow routines on their own without a ton of prompts from their parents, which helps reduce friction and definitely builds confidence in them. self. “
8. Address physical health
Millions of children suffer from allergies, asthma and other serious illnesses. The pandemic has been particularly difficult for their families. If yours is one of them, consider what you can add to your child’s bedroom to support their health. “If I was asked to work on a piece for an immunocompromised child to make it back-to-school friendly, I would start with the larger areas and how they might play into allergies, light control and ventilation,” shares Wintersteen, which offers its services for free to these families through its non-profit organization Savvy Giving by Design. The designer points to the floor coverings: “Should we replace the carpet with a solid surface floor certified green?” She then looks at indoor air quality issues: “Do we have good ventilation in the room, with nothing blocking the windows? Do we have an air purifier installed? Lighting is another concern: “Is there adequate work lighting to reduce eye strain when reading?” Do we have global ambient light to wake us up early in the morning when the days get shorter, or light up the room at night in the fall to get us ready for bed without risking hitting things? Going through this list, it’s easy to see that these tips can also benefit family members without existing health issues to help prevent future problems.
Even if your household is unable to renovate, redesigning, revamping and re-inspiring the spaces in your children’s home for a new school year can all have beneficial effects on well-being.
Author’s Note: Wintersteen and Capanna-Hodge to share ideas on designing wellness and answer back-to-school questions on July 21 (4:00 p.m. EST / 1:00 p.m. Pacific) Wellness Wednesday event at the Clubhouse.