6 Tips for Getting the New School Year Off to a Strong Start.
The start of a new school year ushers in a period of opportunity and anxiety for both parents and children. Once the concerns over teacher selections and matching classes with friends have subsided, the business of getting ready for the transition to the new school year begins. In order to help your children get off to a good start, I have included some tips and strategies for parents with children of all ages to set a strong foundation and help their child get organized for a great school year.
1. Review all Materials Sent or Emailed Home at Least Two Weeks in Advance of the First Day
Content sent home usually includes important information about required school supplies and dates for important events (e.g., health forms, school pictures, etc). Set up a family calendar in a central location in your home and jot down all of the important dates across the school year, so that your child can see the "big picture" and know what is coming.
2. Begin to Establish Healthy Routines at Least One Week in Advance
Your child has likely been enjoying the longer days of summer, staying up later, sleeping in longer. Help ease the stress of the transition by setting a new bedtime goal and slowly shifting their bedtime up by a reasonable increment (15 minutes, for example) each night until they have, at least, two nights of going to bed at the new bedtime. You can support your child's efforts to get to bed earlier by providing text or visual schedules of the bedtime and morning routine to keep them on track. I recently worked with a family that created a laminated morning routine checklist that their child could check off with a marker after completing each task. Consider rewards and incentives to keep your child motivated and inspired to make the hard changes!
3. Help Your Child Imagine What the First Day(s) of School Will be Like
Even if your child has been attending the same school for several years, they will likely have some anxiety about the start of a new school year. Uncertainty can be a troubling experience for many children, so help resolve some of the mystery for your child by taking a few simple steps: practice a "dry-run" with your child in which you make a date (one week before school starts should suffice) to get ready in the morning at the same time you will once school starts, drive or walk the same way route, visit your child's classroom(s), so that they know what to expect.
4. Talk to Your Child's Teacher in Advance
You know your child best, and you can save your child's teacher a great deal of time by introducing yourself and your child, either in writing or in person, before the school year begins. Relevant information might include family background (that you are comfortable disclosing), specific details about how your child learns and socializes including relative strengths and weakness, as well as tips and strategies based on lessons learned from years prior. This information could be "packaged" into a one-page document, complete with your child's picture, hand delivered or emailed, depending upon the number of teachers your child has.
5. Talk with your child about goals and objectives for the school year
Invite your child to consider the question, "What would they like to accomplish this year?" It is important that your children have some input and ownership of the goals, so that they can connect and identify with the respective objectives. Goals should be scaled upon your child's age. For instance, elementary school-aged children may seek to make one new friend in the school year or keep their backpack organized (be sure to get specific about how it would be measured!). For middle school children, appropriate goals might include raising their hand and asking or answering a question in each of their classes during the day. High school children might aim for a healthy balance between work, sleep, and pleasurable activities. In my practice, I have worked with a number of teens who wanted to achieve a healthier, more natural sleep-wake schedule, have some fun, all the while getting their work done to high standards. They were only able to make the requisite changes once they committed to a set of values that incorporated sleep as a high priority.
6. Have Fun!
For the first day, don't hesitate to set the alarm clocks 15 minutes and allow time for a dance party, extra snuggles, or a few stories. Getting ready for the first day of school should be a fun and positive experience!
By Laura C. Kauffman, Ph.D.