Heading back to school can be an exciting time for some kids and daunting for others. Some love the anticipation and can’t wait to see whose classroom they are in and which friends will be with them. Others may struggle more during the school year and the thought alone elicits worry as the days grow closer to the start of school. Whether your child fits one of these categories or falls someplace in between, these tools will help you and your child ease back in to the academic year with less angst.
- Involve your child in whatever you choose to do to prepare. Try to make a “special day” to do your back to school shopping. If you are planning to buy them new things for the start of the new year allow them to pick out their new folders, pencils, backpack, etc. (within reason, of course). It will help them tremendously to feel they have ownership of their things.
- During the first week of school help your child create a special space where all of your their belongings will live when they are not in school. Backpacks, lunch bags, keys, etc. should be placed in the same place all the time as a way to reduce loss of important items. Help your child prepare for each morning the evening before school to cut down on the typical last minute panic to find things before they head off for the day.
- Set up a time and place for homework. Make agreements ahead of time so that everyone knows if homework comes before relaxation or if your child will get a set amount of screen time or play time ahead of homework. Unless you are changing the agreement due to extenuating circumstances, everyone should know exactly what to do and when to do it. And, research has shown that the more involvement your kids have in setting expectations for themselves the more likely they will uphold them.
In addition to the tangible and logistical preparations for a successful school year you can prepare your kids in other ways as well. As mentioned earlier many kids have some trepidation prior to the start of a new academic year. They may struggle with some aspects of school — both academic and social pressures can weigh heavy on kids. Engaging your child in conversations regularly during the first few weeks may be very helpful to them. You don’t want to bombard them with all of the previous year’s struggles but you do want them to know that you are thinking about them and their success as they move through the school year.
- Academic success — Reassure them that you will do whatever you can to help them monitor their achievements as well as their difficulties and work to get them the best help possible
- Social success — As we know, the degree to which a child has mastered the ability to control their emotions and impulses has a tremendous effect on their success in the classroom as well as on the playground. You can help by gently reminding your child to take deep breaths, ask for help from an adult or simply walk away from upsetting situations. You can also help them practice putting their feelings into words so those feelings don’t turn into troubling behaviors during the day.
- Emotional success — Allow your child the time and space to express worries, frustrations and disappointments. Encourage them to talk about relationships as well as their math assignments. This will help you to understand something about the struggles they may be having during the day that are unrelated to academics.
- Maintaining Success – Set up a weekly or bi-weekly family meeting with agreements that govern expectations and respect (30 minutes is probably all you need). This can be a time for everyone to share their achievements and their struggles. Ask questions gently and thoughtfully. You want to elicit information that may not come forward at another time.
Making certain your child has all of the tools they need for success throughout the year is a significant challenge for parents. They need to have a backpack full of the right tools to help them get through the academic responsibilities of the day. But, as importantly, they need you to help them build capacities for emotional awareness, independence and responsibility so that they can tackle and win the social/emotional challenges of their day as well. Success in school is dependent on many things but as parents you can provide the foundation and support that will allow them to build all their skills throughout each day.
Beth Berkowitz, Psy.D. is Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Director of Children’s Clinical Services and Child Training Institute at Parents Place in San Francisco.