Back-to-school time is here! While this season of fresh beginnings is exciting, it can also be a stressful time for youngsters and parents alike – whether your kids are heading off to kindergarten, elementary, middle, high school, or even if they are away college.
“Why not make new school year resolutions that set the family up for success?” suggests Wake Forest University counseling professor Samuel T. Gladding, author of Family Therapy. As classes get underway this fall, use these strategies to set everyone on a positive and productive path.
Tips for families with school-age children:
1. Getting off to a good start with homework.
Drew Edwards, adjunct associate professor of psychology at Wake Forest University and the author of How to Handle a Hard-to-Handle Kid, offers these suggestions:
2. Just say “no” to over-scheduling.
- Develop a system for bringing the assignments home, such as a planner or notebook for children to use to write homework assignments down daily, or an assignment sheet you send with them to school.
- Find the right spot for homework. Some children work at a desk or kitchen table near the family while others, especially older kids, may need more privacy. Let your child try doing homework in several places until one feels right.
- Settle on a regular homework time. Maybe it’s best for a youngster to tackle homework right after school, or he or she may need a break and hit the books after dinner. Try a specific homework time for two weeks. If it doesn’t work, try another for two weeks.
- Find a starting point. Does your child like to do the hardest or easiest homework or tackle one specific subject first? Edwards advises offering suggestions, but let your child decide how he or she works best.
- Find a focus. Edwards says putting all other books and materials out of sight while your child works on one subject can help youngsters focus. Some children may need a parent to break assignments into several smaller steps (like writing sentences for vocabulary or figuring out math problems).
- Offer positive feedback, but don’t get into the habit of constant hovering – and never do work for your child. Nagging, Edwards emphasizes, is also a big mistake. “School is important,” he notes, “but so is the relationship you have with your child. Don’t let homework become an issue that harms that relationship.”
Music lessons, soccer practice, club meetings and more can add up to a near-impossible and exhausting after-school schedule for kids and parents alike. Don’t wait until your children are involved in more activities than they – and you – can handle. Gladding advises working out a reasonable schedule for extracurricular events at the start of the school year. Make sue youngsters have some spontaneous, creative play time, too.
3. Be realistic about extra school-related expenses.
It’s not only your time, but your budget that can be stretched to the limit with too many after extra school activities and enrichment programs. How do you face this problem head on without disappointing your kids if they want to participate in multiple sports and other activities? Gladding says it helps for families to manage finances realistically by talking with their children to set priorities and common goals as the school year kicks off. Janet C. Benavente, extension agent in the family and consumer science department at Colorado State University Extension, advises choosing one sport and/or musical instrument for your child to pursue if your budget is limited. Benavente says instead of feeling guilty your children can’t pursue ever activity that comes along, consider this advantage: your youngsters may become more skilled by focusing in on one or two things they are enthusiastic about instead of half a dozen extra activities.
4. Commit to being involved in your children’s artistic, academic and athletic events.
Take time to put your children’s activities on your calendar and attend their events and school meetings. “Intentionally decide how to make time to encourage children in their chosen pursuits,” Gladding says. “Encouragement is far more important than achievement in building parent-child relationships.”
5. Set expectations and routines.
Waiting to set rules for homework time until your kids are in the habit of watching hours of television or playing too many video games on school nights is a sure way to trigger arguments. Instead, according to Gladding, start the school year with specific expectations. For example, establish a television-free day or limit television and video game time – and stick to it.
6. Don’t try to live the past school year over.
It’s not unusual for a child to have had a bad experience or two last school year with a classmate or even a teacher – or perhaps he or she made disappointing grades. Gladding urges parents and students to hit the ”reset button” and avoid letting bad times from the past year overshadow opportunities to have a better experience this school year. The key to a better year? Focus on what a student is good at and work on getting stronger in areas where he or she hasn’t done as well in the past.
7. Be in the same place at the same time.
Wanting or even assuming you’ll be spending time with your children won’t make it happen – plan to be together. Consider adding a family activity everyone can look forward to, like “Friday night movie night,” to your weekly routine. And eating dinners together is one of the simplest ways to strengthen family bonds and share information about school activities and interests, Gladding points out.
8. Make time for mini-celebrations.
Make recognizing even small achievements, like passing a difficult test, a part of the weekly routine. “Write down milestones large and small. Like a height chart for younger children, a written record helps remind children and adults of growth and progress,” Gladding says.
If you child is headed off to college:
9. Prepare yourself.
If this is the first time a youngster has gone off to college, you may discover the so-called “empty nest” syndrome is very real. The transition can leave even the busiest working parent feeling a sense of profound loss. University of Indianapolis psychologist Kelly Miller advises accepting this as normal. Plan on ways to help yourself feel better, especially in the first month or two. “Schedule dinner or movie nights with friends, get reacquainted with your partner, sign up for a class or pick up a hobby that you have put aside,” Dr. Miller says.
10. Maintain stability.
Sure, the dorm room is furnished and your new college student is excited about living away from home. But this isn’t the time to make too many major changes to your personal lifestyle. Dr. Miller points out that selling your home and downsizing may sound great, but it’s less stressful in the long run if you and your offspring maintain a sense of stability for now. So resist the urge to renovate your son’s or daughter’s room. Dr. Miller says even an independent young adult can feel lonely or homesick at college and will welcome visiting familiar surroundings at home over the upcoming holidays.