In today’s world, we are surrounded by constant noise and distractions. At home, we are always connected to media such as smartphones, computers, television and tablets. In the car, we are also saturated by noise and radio programs with commentary often inappropriate for our children’s ears.
How do we bring some peace into our lives and share more time with our children?
I want to share some of the routines that can help us now that our children are heading back to school.
When my seven children were younger, I took them to school, which was 20 minutes from home. Those rides became a very special time for us.
Usually, when I was alone in the car, I would have the radio on or listen to some audiobook, religious music, or the news, but when I was with my children, I would turn the radio off and we would enjoy a bit of conversation. I would begin by asking what they were doing at school, and to share one thing they had learned that week, or what projects they had.
When we were halfway through, we would offer morning prayer, and each day we would take turns leading the prayer.
Beginning with the sign of the cross, each of us would thank God for something or someone in our lives. Then, each would offer an intention, asking for something or someone. Finally, we concluded with the Lord’s Prayer and three Hail Marys, ending with the Glory Be.
Through their prayers, I could see what was in my children’s hearts and minds. It gave me great joy to see how sensitive they were, how they cared for their little classmates and often included them alongside their parents and siblings in their prayers.
I was also happy to see they were very grateful and humble, with hearts willing to help others.
It is important for us as parents to have those conversations, to know what is going on in their lives and for them to feel how supported and treasured they are by their family.
With that in mind, here are a few practical tips to get everyone back to school feeling that supported:
— Establish a daily routine including wake-up times, study times, meals, art activities, sports, free time and family prayer time. It may help to have a calendar of activities posted in a visible place. Part of that routine can include leaving everything organized in the evenings, such as uniforms, school supplies and snacks, to avoid worrying and running around in the mornings.
— Maintain active communication: Talk to your children about their expectations and concerns. Sit down with them daily and ask them how school went. Listen to them carefully, so they can feel understood and supported.
— Maintain a healthy diet: In our home, several of our children had hereditary autoimmune diseases. Eliminating sodas, foods high in chemicals, preservatives, and limiting sweets has significantly improved our children’s health.
— Have a quiet place to study free of noise and distractions.
— Help your children identify and participate in at least one extracurricular activity that interests them, such as art, theater, or sports, to complement their education and develop their talents. At our home, most of our children have learned an instrument and many have played soccer.
— Limit electronic devices and television to no more than two hours a day, and ensure they do not interfere with school responsibilities. A good practice is to put the phone in another room and turn off notifications during homework and family dinner time.
— Pray as a family: I love Father Patrick Peyton’s phrase: “The family that prays together, stays together.” Today, more than ever, it is important to recover that time of the family dinner and to start with a prayer, thanking God for the blessings and asking together for our needs. Also, find a time to pray the rosary at night, at least a few times during the week.
In our home, many of us have the practice of visiting the chapel and spending time in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. My daughter Emily (now Sister Juan Maria) spent 15 minutes in front of the Blessed Sacrament every day before school and it helped strengthen her faith, especially during the challenging teenage years.
For several years, my wife and I were homeschooling our children. Now that my youngest daughter is about to enter high school, we enrolled her in a Catholic school 20 minutes from home. It will be very exciting and special to renew our routines of conversation and prayer on the way to school.
Silvio Cuellar is a writer, liturgical music composer and journalist. He was coordinator of the Hispanic Ministry office and editor of the newspaper El Católico de Rhode Island in the Diocese of Providence.
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