It’s that time again. Time for new backpacks, inside shoes, neon pink highlighters and blue ball point pens. It’s time to pile our sunburnt children into the backseat of our cars and fight for a coveted parking spot at the local mall. We will listen to our child plead for a new Avengers lunch box and bargain for the sequined pencil case instead of the plain (cheaper!) black one. We will stand in line as the cashiers methodically tally our school supplies.

As the last few days of summer come to a close, we realize that we need to clean up our acts. Get back on track. Gone are the days of popsicles and potato chips. It’s back to whole grain, organic, grain fed. (Gak! That doesn’t sound remotely satisfying.) Say good bye to evening cocktails by the fire pit. Say hello to green tea and sparkling water—and maybe the occasional pumpkin spice latté.

Kids, it’s time to get back to your regularly scheduled bedtime. I know it’s still light outside, but school is here and you can’t stay up until 11 p.m. anymore. We haven’t read a single book all summer. Quick! Grab a book before your teacher figures out that you can no longer read and judges my neglectful parenting!

At the beginning of summer, it seems as if the weeks will stretch forever and we have nothing but time to play, relax and have adventures. Yet, every year, autumn surprises us, sneaks up on us, leaving our bucket list only half accomplished.

Though some weeks seemed to last a lifetime, with budgets stretched thin and patience worn even thinner, we look back on the last two months, wishing we had more time. More time with our families and our friends. More time to bask in the sunshine and enjoy late night conversations.

But now it’s back to rushed, hectic mornings. Back to home reading programs. Back to spelling lists. Back to making dinner in 20 minutes or less. Back to chauffeuring to soccer practice. Back to organized chaos. But, it’s okay. After the first exhausting week, the new routine feels like a familiar pair of slippers. We slide into it and carry on once again.

During the first few weeks of school, when our children wake up in the morning excited to rip the tags off their back to school clothes and strut their stuff on the elementary school runway, as they worry and dream about who their new teacher will be or which besties will be in their class, as our older children take on greater responsibility and prepare for the demands of high school, take a moment to remind your children that back-to-school is not only about these moments of nerves and excitement. It’s not about the colourful backpacks, the unused pencils, the coolest shoes, the hippest teacher.

Before your child goes back to school, take a moment to remind them that they are walking into a new beginning, a clean slate. Going to school is not about figuring out what you want to be when you grow up. It’s about figuring out who you want to be. Do you want to be the kid wearing the jeans everyone covets, or would you rather be the kind kid, the one who shows compassion to those who need it? Do you want everyone to be jealous of the binder you bought with the cute kitty on the cover, or would you rather be the helpful child who will go out of your way to encourage, to assist and to inspire? Do you want to be the student with the fruit-scented felt pens everyone wants to borrow, or the student who uses grit and determination, the one who never gives up?

Back-to-school is an exciting time. It’s busy. It’s thrilling. It’s overwhelming. Let’s not get lost in the chaos. Let’s not lose sight of our priorities. While your children (and mine!) don their fanciest duds and appreciate their new school supplies, I hope you take a minute or two to initiate meaningful conversation about strength of character. Talk about it in the morning as you eat breakfast together or at night, when you tuck them in to bed. Who do you want to be? Encourage your child to set an intention for each day, each week, perhaps. Perform an act of kindness. Help a classmate. Make a new friend. Give a compliment. Try something new. Don’t give up on the thing that’s been causing you challenge.

Without a clear intention, we are simply throwing darts in the air, not knowing where the target is. Without a goal, how will you know which path to follow, which mountain to climb? So, I will ask you again, who do you want to be?

School is a fabulous place where our children are exposed to new ideas, new challenges, and new people on a near daily basis. It is the perfect environment in which our children will discover their academic and social limits and will either have the courage to grow, or will turn their backs in retreat. Having those meaningful conversations and letting them know that you believe in them will help them define their goals, their dreams and their character. Reminding them to be brave will serve them in moments when something is challenging, when they’ve made a mistake, or when they need to stand up for what they believe is right. School is not only about grades, accomplishments and social status, it’s also about personal growth and character development. Knowing that my children will find themselves in situations which test this, I want to begin this year by reminding them that school, as Aristotle said, is a place which educates the heart as well as the mind.

Kelly Cleeve is a passionate educator with 14 years experience. She is a graduate student at the University of British Columbia, a wife and a mother of 2 beautiful boys.