20 Back to School Tips for Success

By September 2, 2014Families and Parenting

The end of summer is a mix of disappointment and the excitement of starting a new year at school for many children. There are several things that a parent can do to assist their children in establishing a strong and positive start to the school year. Some ideas include:

  1. View the new school year as a new beginning, perhaps a time to have a slightly later  bedtime, an increase in allowance or other privileges.
  2. Establish new routines. Perhaps the best routine for elementary school age children, if you are not yet doing so, is to read to them each night when they are in bed, usually a chapter book one or two levels above what the child can read and also giving the child some extra time (10 or 15 minutes) before lights out if they have a book (at their reading level) to read to themselves (and yes, comics count).
  3. Reset old routines. For young children it is important to get them in the routine of waking up and going to bed early. This can be more difficult for adolescents. By having a chronic pattern of staying up late and sleeping in teens often re-set their sleep-wake cycles. The best way is to have the person wake up progressively earlier so that at night they are tired and can get to sleep.
  4. Plan for family time. Planning set family meal nights provides ongoing contact between parent and child. For some families one of the best ways of meal time together is to try to arrange for daily breakfasts as a family. There is a positive relationship between eating breakfast and school performance. Many families keep large calendars in the kitchen that keeps track of family members and activities.
  5. Be aware of over committed children. While structured activities are important for health and exercise, social skills and exploring interests, make sure that each child also has some “down time” school is a full-time job.
  6. Be aware of the lure of part-time work. While money management and being industrious is important, the lure of making money and putting in more and more hours at work can be detrimental to school achievement and therefore to future, lifelong earning power and job satisfaction.
  7. Conduct emotional check ups. Ask each child (separately) their thoughts on the coming year. Don’t predict doom by telling the child that many children are afraid of going to school unless the child brings up such a fear. If the child does have back-to-school fears you can “normalize” them by saying that many have such fear and they are normal and short-term and perhaps telling a story of how you felt that way one year and what you did to overcome it. Be an active listener and listen until your child has told “the whole story” and how they feel before jumping in with parental advice.
  8. Be there as much as possible physically and emotionally. If at all possible try to be there to talk to your child after the first few days of school. If you don’t have that flexibility due to work plan for special evening times during the first few weeks to discuss feelings and events.
  9. For those children showing extra anxiety, take time to remind the child of other things that they have accomplished and how they have enjoyed things in the past that they were first afraid of (riding a bike, swimming, previous school years). Focus on the positives (new friends, new teacher, new supplies, new clothes, etc.) and monitor your own feelings to make sure you are not passing on your own insecurities.
  10. Recognise that school is work and supplies are tools. While back-to-school is a financial drain on many families, if at all possible try to get at least one special item (a cartoon character pencil case, interesting markers or a fun lunch bag) to build positive anticipation for the child and to encourage them to take pride in their possession and work.
  11. Don’t wait if you know of problems in advance. If your child has learning, behavioural, health or other challenges, even if they are returning to a familiar school take a few minutes on or before the first day to remind the teacher and if needed to plan a more detailed meeting. Those who have a “let’s wait and see” attitude often allow the child to have a negative start to school which sometimes children do not recover from.
  12. Routine is reassuring. Having a set homework, meal, bedtime and morning routine makes the days easier for children. Often making lunches the night before and setting out clothes in advance can make mornings more positive.
  13. If your child is prone to anxiety keep in mind physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach-aches are normal. Always seek medical help with medical problems, but often encouraging the child to attend school unless incapacitated keeps fears from building. If physical symptoms allow the child to successfully avoid school for one day, they are even more fearful the next day. If you are concerned that your child’s back to school jitters are beyond “normal” speak with the school counsellor, teacher or administrator, a psychologist or a pediatrician.
  14. For younger children who will be walking to school take practice runs before school starts and if needed arrange for friends or older children to walk them to school if you are not available.
  15. Reward the proper use of organizational tools such as school agendas. Take time each night to review them with the child and help them plan ahead for assignments to minimize last minute “all-nighters”.
  16. Don’t overreact. If the first few days of school are a bit rough for your child give the teacher time to deal with the issues. Often problems are caused by well-meaning yet nervous parents who walk the child right into class and try to provide reassurance to the child – a quick “I love you, I will see you after school, goodbye” is often best. After all if parents are spending so much time reassuring, there must be something bad coming, hadn’t there?
  17. For young children try to arrange play dates with classmates before school starts and for the first few weeks of school to help children feel that they are not alone.
  18. For elementary students try your best to volunteer at least a few times during the year. This is a great way to see how things are in school for your child.
  19. When problems arise for young children don’t be hesitant to check out things with the teacher. For older children you should check how they would feel about you calling and they may want the opportunity to first try to resolve problems themselves.
  20. Don’t speak badly of school. Those parents who tell how they hated a certain subject, or school in general, or those who blame problems at school on the school or teacher to their child set up that child for failure.