Fall is approaching. For many, it means a new season of schedules for the kids that either intertwine or conflict with school, sleep, meals, work and family life. If you find yourself lamenting each evening about how tired you and the kids are at the end of a long day, it very well could be that your family is struggling because you are out of balance with work, school, healthy foods, exercise and the countless scheduled activities.

Trying to keep my own calendar straight is a challenge, and I often speak with individuals who are trying to get a handle on their world before it spins out of control. Trying to juggle the various schedules of everyone under the same roof can seem almost impossible, unless a few simple tips and tricks are applied to bring some order to life and stop the insanity

Here are some thoughts to jump start a healthy family calendar that I’ve seen work very well for friends and family.

1. Schedule “Family Night.”
This is the first step towards a solution. The idea is simple and best of all, it can create memories to last a lifetime. It might be movie night, take-out night (think pizza or Chinese, for example), board game night, or family walk night. Be creative to pick an activity that earns the consensus of the entire crew. Personally, Cubs games, Wolves games and concerts in the park are a few of my favorite things. The important part is that a night each week is designated just for “together time.” The days of the conversation at the dinner table have sadly gone, so time needs be set aside to catch up with each other. If we learn how to relax…and talk with each other, you might be very surprised by the things you can learn from your kids on your special night.

2. Enjoy time with your child’s friends.
No kidding. You don’t always have to be the coolest house on the block. However, letting kids “hang out” at your place will give you valuable insight into your own child’s interests and motivations. A bonus is the ability to understand the “crowd” with whom he or she associates. For younger children, time spent with a friend offers actual learning lessons and experiences such as sharing, responsibility, taking turns, and countless others. Many child development social experts point out that good, old-fashioned free time for playing and social interaction can be better for a child’s development than an overload of too many organized or structured activities.

3. Let your child choose his/her own interests.Too many well-meaning parents sign their kids up for activities that offer no interest to their child. Conflicts and power struggles are sure to occur as a result. All too often we see cases where a child begs to sign up for activities, or is encouraged to do something of no interest and then wants to quit. This can be caused by a number of issues that take the fun out of the activity… yet, allows for another chance to communicate. Try to aim for an activity where you find your child self-motivated to participate. If he or she needs to be begged, bribed or scolded to get ready, then perhaps, it isn’t the right fit. Many cues, verbal and non-verbal, will indicate levels of interest, dedication and enjoyment.

4. Consider the time commitment when making scheduling decisions.
Activities often emphasize multiple practices, time and travel requirements. As the parent, considering one particular activity over another allows room for more family quality time. There is always a cost to every new commitment. Ask yourself, does being involved with this activity hinder or promote our higher family goal of quality time?

5. Determine your child’s commitment as well.
If your kid says an activity “might” be fun, avoid committing to a full season or year. Not only could it present a problem for your child if he/she doesn’t like it, but will infringe on the other players/members participating in the activity; not to mention the family’s commitment. Many teams rely on a certain number of players or kids to form a group. A last-minute pull-out could cause an impact on everyone else. If you’re not sure, consider signing your child up for a mini-camp or week-long or short session instead. If your kid loves it, then you can always seek something more in the future.

6. Be the Boss.
If everyone in the family is involved in some type of activity, household chores may be harder to get accomplished, thanks to a lack of time. At the family planning meeting, explain for each activity, everyone will have to pitch in to make sure the clothes still get washed, the dishes get done, and the table gets cleared. The key is set expectations up front and stick to them to avoid mutiny down the road. Should you hear the statement from the troops that, “You’re not the boss of me,” remind them sternly, but fairly, with a smile, that you are.

7. They don’t have to participate in everything.
Try to adjust schedules when needed to accommodate the time required for schoolwork and family time priorities. If your child’s grades start to drop, or you notice that your child is falling asleep at dinner, it is quite possible that you may be asking too much of them. Always keep in mind that despite a bottomless tank of gas and a wealth of energy and enthusiasm, a child’s age, personality, and true interests must be considered when crafting their schedules and commitments.

8. There is no “I” in TEAM.
“A family who prays and plays together, stays together,” is a solid message. The healthiest families are those where parents and children support each other’s activities and interests.

9. Always, family first.
With priorities straight, your chances for a happy, well-adjusted family increase exponentially.