As much as I hate to think of summer ending, it is time to be thinking about the new school year beginning. ‘Beginning’ is a concept worth giving thought to. To begin is to start or start again. A new start should not be marred by old expectations.
Whether your kids are going to school for the first time or are in high school, a new school year marks a new beginning. And isn’t it always a new beginning for you as well? Of what, we don’t know, but new hopes and fears emerge at this time of year.
- If your child is coming off a previously bad school year, you wonder and fear what this year will bring and hope it will be better.
- If your child had a good year, your expectations are likely a little higher this year.
- For a child just beginning, you wonder what school years will be like for this one. Will he succeed, will she have friends, will teachers like them? And always: What will my role be? How can I make this a great year for my child?
To start the year off right, pay careful attention to the following:
- Stay present and away from inappropriate expectations. Do your best to focus on right now and let go of past mistakes and old experiences. Your child is different than he was even three months ago. Talk to and plan with who he is now.
- Maintain strong connection. Especially in the beginning of the school year, keep quiet tabs on what is happening. A change in your child’s behavior may be a signal that something might be going on at school. Many kids don’t talk about their experiences. It all shows up in behavior.
- Don’t ask a lot of questions at the end of the day. The last thing your child wants to talk about at the end of a long, hard day is how it was and what happened. She wants to chill, play, call her own shots for awhile. Be patient. When she’s had her own time, she’ll be in a better place to tell you about her day.
- Make contact with your child’s teacher. Even if you don’t have a special needs or strong-willed child, it’s always a good idea to set up a time with your child’s teacher about a month into the year. Talk about how your child responds best at home and what tends to set him off. Be sure to share any family issues that could cause disruptive behavior in the classroom.
- Set up a homework schedule and school-day rules and expectations WITH your child. Each year is different. Establish a sit down time to talk about what time and place your child wants to choose for homework acknowledging when you will and will not be available for help. Decide on media times and rules. Make sure to include both your child’s and your desires in the discussion. Whatever you come up with must be agreed on by all parties involved. Create a weekly calendar and a contract if appropriate.
- Keep bedtimes and routines consistent. The younger your child, the more important is the consistency of routine. Keep after school activities minimal and consistent. Start the bedtime routine early and keep the order of things the same so your child gets into the sleep mode. Make sure all media is done an hour prior to going to sleep as it stimulates the brain and can create stress. Any roughhousing or physical play should end a half hour before sleep (sometimes it helps for a child to wind up before winding down).
- Set goals. Ask your child how she would like to end this next school year. What she hopes to accomplish, what grades she would like to have, etc. Ask her what she would like to hear her teacher say about her if she overheard her teacher talking to someone about her.
- Make sure there is plenty of time for play.
What are your hopes and fears about each of these topics? Can you share them with a trusted partner or friend and always put them aside when you talk with your child?
Be sure to send your children messages of confidence and competence. Let them know that you trust that they want what’s best for them as much as you do. Give them the opportunity to begin again fresh. We can always begin again.
And don’t sweat the small stuff. Although it may seem huge now, a failing grade, a lost homework assignment, a missing library book, a bad test score is only about right now. Resist the temptation to catastrophize and assume that your child is NEVER going to pay attention, listen to instructions, stop losing things, get organized, care about grades, etc.
What we all want most for our children is that their school experiences are good enough for them to continue imagining, creating and always being interested in learning new things-and having the confidence that they always can.