New School Year Challenges – How Can You Help?
The end of summer break is like a ‘reset’ button, immersing students in the ‘new’: new teachers, new classes, new locker combinations, new peers – and new school year challenges.
The challenges can seem daunting but a little awareness and prep can help your child zip past them and get on track for success. Here’s how.
The Structured Life.
No more “What shall we do today?”. The school year brings structure back, and it helps if you build routines to keep life running smoothly. By the time your kid is in middle/high school, you know the drill and are geared up to have The Plan up on the fridge (and on everyone’s online calendars!). But school demands, your child, and life, have changed in the past year, so here you go again.
Build a new routine for this year, paying attention for what’s needed now.
Make sure your child is the primary creator of the routine, not you as she has to own and follow it.
Leave enough time for sleep. Lack of sleep affects your child’s physical, emotional and brain health and, of course, performance in school (teachers can attest to that!).
Help your child block out time every day for some feel-good activity. Relaxing for little while shooting hoops with friends or watching a favorite dance show on TV helps keep stress levels down.
Don’t expect everything to work from Day 1! Both your child and you should prepare to roll with it and adjust as needed.
Expectations, with Due Dates Attached.
School also brings deadlines for book reports, weekly quizzes and voluminous homework. Switching from the easy, lazy days of summer vacation to the constant demands of school is difficult for most students, but these three simple coping techniques will help.
Schedule the Work
Three words: use a planner. Schools usually provide planners/agendas for all students, get one if your child’s school doesn’t. Generally, successful students keep track of deadlines. I have never had a student who was diligent about due dates fail my class.
Using a planner is a very useful life skill, but initially hard for most adolescents. Help your child in developmentally appropriate ways. For a middle schooler this might mean a daily check with the planner, while high schoolers may only need a weekly conversation or a monthly review to make sure academics and extra-curriculars are all balanced.
Teach your kids to pace out assignments. When I’ve done this with students, I can see the light bulb go on: “You mean, I have to read 10 pages every night to finish this 200 page book in three weeks?!” Exactly. But then they get it and feel more in control.
Ask the Teacher
Successful students do not hesitate to ask teachers questions. Most teachers love it as it signals to them that a student is interested in learning, but many students are diffident, especially with new teachers. Encourage your child to start with simple questions early in the year (“Ms. Jones, could you point me to room 112?”) so he’s comfortable asking for guidance whenever he needs it.
If your child is struggling with any part of the academics, it is best to address it as soon as possible. Maybe you and your child already know that she’s comfortable with science but struggles with writing. If so, acknowledge it early on, and offer to assist her. If you can’t do it yourself, get outside support. Your child will be much less stressed knowing that if needed, she can get guidance from teachers, peers, outside tutors or online resources.
The Social Jungle.
Adolescents are busy figuring out identity: Who am I? Who will I become? And there’s the desire to belong, to fit in, and the inevitable concerns about popularity. There is no way to “save” your child from these social pressures, no way to prevent them from having to make hard choices. But you can help them run the social gauntlets relatively unscathed.
Teach your child to talk through issues, if not with you, with other trusted adults, older siblings, or the best friend now at another school. Your child should know that she’s not alone.
To keep your child communicating with you, stay involved and most importantly, tolerate minor changes. Chartreuse hair? Incomprehensible music? As a teacher, I’ve seen that when students feel accepted, they tend to behave more acceptably and push back when they feel judged. As a parent you should help reduce your child’s stress, not contribute unduly to it.
Even if schools are doing more to help students adjust, transitioning back to school, especially a new one, can be overwhelming. Help your child understand (and you should too!) that this is normal. Reassure them that in a few weeks, the unfamiliar and uncomfortable may seem boringly routine. With a little nudging, they may remember times when they dug into their own resilience and survived and feel confident they can do so again. Fights with friends and “OMG! I’m so embarrassed!” moments do fade with time.
Also, it helps to remember that every child is unique and what is easy for one may be anxiety-inducing for another. Be patient, but if you notice that you son or daughter is not doing better, don’t hesitate to speak to the counselor or seek professional help – it may not be possible for you or your child to resolve on your own.
Change creates challenges, but they don’t have to be crushing. And your child is learning a valuable life skill by dealing with them.
How do you and your child approach the new school year? Let us know!