(This post originally appeared on the Today Show Parents Blog )

I remember a while back talking to a friend about back-to-school shopping and she said that she doesn’t bring her kid to the store when she goes. “Its just easier to go alone. I get it all done more quickly by myself,” she explained. I was pretty surprised by this as I figured that all parents went back-to-school shopping with their kids.

Back-to-school shopping is something I have enjoyed doing since I was helping my oldest child, my daughter Rachel, prep for her first day of kindergarten 23 years ago. Besides the school supplies such as which set of the box crayons and colored pencils she got to pick out, I had her choose the outfit for her first day of school.

I had envisioned her finding some cute dress with a few bows on it, maybe a couple of ribbons or some lace, you know, the girly type of dress.

She didn’t like any of them.

As she continued meandering through the clothes racks, weaving in and out, she finally saw something she liked: these cream colored short overalls with a sunflower on them.

“Mom, I like this, I’d like to try this on,” she beamed.

At first I thought, “Really? That is not very cute,” but of course I said nothing negative. She tried them on and loved them, and that’s what became her first day of kindergarten outfit.

My daughter looked absolutely adorable in those cream-colored overalls with the sunflower on it, and I still have the photo of her standing in our yard for the first of many first-day-of-school photos. It was the start of me seeing her style and personality shine, all because of back-to-school shopping!

As back-to-school shopping is in full swing this year, with many students already in school and others set to start this coming Tuesday after Labor Day, I’ve been enjoying the first day of school photos of kids in front of their homes and gardens, and I posted ones of my sophomore in high school on his first day this year; and I also posted one of my college aged twins. We had a blast shopping together on two different days.

In my 23 years of having back-to-school season with kids, I’ve learned to keep these five things in mind. 

First, make back-to-school shopping a tradition. Tell them about a week before school is to start, that you are going shopping together, so they can mentally prepare for it. It shows your involvement in their lives and that you care about experiencing this time together. Also, make it clear; that this is something you do together in your family.


Second, get your children involved as much as possible. Ask them to look at the ads in the paper and decide what stores they want to go to. Have them print their own school supply lists when they are old enough. Encourage them to check off the items on the list as you are shopping together to keep them engaged. And, when your kids are in high school and college, remember that back-to-school shopping together is still important. Sure, it takes a bit more effort to coordinate schedules, but it’s still something to do together. A tradition.

Third is to allow our kids to make decisions. I remember how fun it was to see my kids choose between the various boxes of crayon sizes or which notebooks caught their eyes. It’s a joy to discover our kids’ styles and interests and personality come through as they choose school supplies and back-to-school clothes, just as I did with my daughter 23 years ago. If I had not let her choose her first day of school outfit — those cute overalls — I would have missed seeing that side of her personality, that has stayed through this day.

The fourth thing I try to remember is that if you are involved as a parent in back-to-school shopping, it communicates the message that school is important and that you care. We are living out our values as parents in front of our kids, and they are watching. So many great conversations happen during back to school shopping. It’s an opportunity to talk and share and reflect upon the year ahead; you hear about your kids’ favorite colors and interests and ideas. Our goal are parents is a lifelong relationship with our kids, and the more we can be involved in all areas of our kids lives in their younger years, to learn about them, how they are processing life and what makes the tick, the more we will be able to relate to them as they get older.

And finally and maybe the most important thing I try to remember during this back-to-school season is to keep it fun. Don’t just make it about checking things off the list to get it done as fast as possible; rather make it about the experience and enjoy the time together. Keep it chill, as my kids say!  If you can’t find a certain brand of crayons, go with the off brand. If, they get tired, take a break. If you can’t get it all done in one day, go a second day. Kids sense our stress.

Then, the best way to make it fun is, after the “work,” take them out to lunch or dinner. Yep. Make it an event. Feeding them well is a huge part of my parenting philosophy, and finding reasons to eat afterwards together, whether at a restaurant or a special meal at home, gives them – and you – something to look forward to.

The way I look at it, you can’t go wrong associating food with back-to-school.

Happy Back To School to all!


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