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5 Lessons for after-school parenting

Danielle Smith is a former award-winning television news anchor and reporter turned digital correspondent, host, spokesperson, media trainer, lover of all things video and public s

As they arrive home from school, they are looking for me to shut it all down and to focus on only them.

I used to be the mom who worked all the time. Before the small people left for school, as we were all getting ready, while they were gone for the day, as they arrived home and again after they went to bed. By this, I mean, it was my goal to squeeze in any available-minute-spare-minute-last minute ounce of work possible. You see, I love my work. I do.

But I also love my small people.

And they started to notice the disparity. And mimic it. The way that small people do: "Mommy, I'll be with you in one minute... (finger perched in the air)" Sound familiar? More appropriately, does the reflection fit?

It did me. And I didn't necessarily love what I was seeing. I've always known that my small people do as I do, not as I say, and this was certainly no exception. As they arrived home from school, they were looking for me to shut it all down, and to focus on them and only them. They deserved that.

My small girl started to capture pictures of me working. Because it was "fun." Except it wasn't, right?

So, we created a system of rules that moderate how our school afternoons fall into place; they serve not only me, but also my small people.

Five things to do when your kids get home from school

Stop what you are doing. This was, by far, the biggest adjustment for me. I'm used to the, "I'm almost done" mentality. It did take some time to adjust to the notion that 3:35 is my knock-off. Period. No "I'm almost there." No "I'll be with you in a minute." Instead, complete focus and energy radiates towards those smiling faces as they walk in. I need to be ready, prepped, happy and expectant.

Ask questions. Let's be honest, the small people won't always want to talk to me and share about their days, but for now they do. And I have every intention of taking advantage of it while I can. Did they learn anything? Was their day fun? Stressful? Crazy? Tell. Me. More.

Listen. You know all those questions you asked? You need to listen for the answers, not reach for your phone to respond to a text or email. Sometimes they tell you eons more than what you asked for: who was kind, who wasn't... what books they are thinking about reading... why the science fair sounds fun even though they don't have to do it... even how they might actually like someone in their class (the horror!).

Let them play. We used to jump right into homework, but found that the small people needed a little stress relief before their brains jumped right into the next section of work. Even 15 minutes of play can help them to let go and refocus. I found that their ability to sit still and get their work done was limited when I expected them to get started the second they walked in the door.

Feed them. My small people walk in the door asking for a snack and a drink. If you are anything like me, you are trying to focus on pulling some of the "good stuff" out of the pantry and fridge. We look to fruit, cheese, trail mix and juices they love (that I can feel good about). Recently Mott's sent us some of their new innovative flavors to try. The amazing news: 40 percent less sugar than fruit juices and no artificial sweeteners. Not to mention delicious flavors: Fruit Punch Rush, Wild Grape Surge and Strawberry Boom. The biggest hit in our home was Fruit Punch Rush. It's like summer in a bottle (and you know we are desperate for that around here). I'm grateful that the small people can reach for something to nourish them after school. There is drinking, sharing, cheers and even some homework accomplished.

Hug them. If I'm honest, this is actually one of the first things I do as 3:35 hits. I've actually said so many times to my small people, "I don't think I've had enough hugs today," that they now say it back to me whenever they feel even the slightest need. It serves us all well. And it means the hugs happen daily: when they need, when I need, when anyone needs.

What is your afternoon routine and how does it help you and your small people to get set for the rest of the day and stay connected?

This conversation is sponsored by Mott's, but as always, all thoughts and opinions are mine and mine alone.

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