How can you help your child navigate the ups and downs that come as the school year clicks into gear?
Ah, the first few weeks of school. Backpacks are bursting with new books. Lunch boxes are filled with nutritionally-sound lunches and healthy snacks. Moods are upbeat and bouncy. Kids head off to the school bus or get into a car to go to school with a bit of optimism in their step. Everything is new! Subjects are fresh challenges, teachers are as-of-yet unknown, and the year is filled with the promise of positive potential.
A few weeks into the school year, though, kids hit their first fatigue hurdle. Challenges crop up. Everything starts to feel a lot less new and shiny. Teachers are giving a lot of homework. Math is harder. Social circles may be in flux. Your child’s friends can all be together in other classes than theirs. Auditions and tryouts have come and gone with unexpected results. What happened to all of the optimism everyone had during the first week of school? More importantly, how can you help your child navigate the ups and downs that come as the school year clicks into gear?
Here are 10 ways to help your child maintain positive momentum throughout the school year:
1. Attitude check. The point of view you have toward school and teachers is going to be mirrored by your child. If you criticize and disrespect your kid’s teachers and administrators at home, don’t be surprised if your child does the same at school. Are you friendly with teachers? Do you volunteer at the school or help out in some other way? Show your child that teachers deserve respect, support, and appreciation and that school is a safe and fun place to learn. Attend parent-teacher night, meet your child’s teachers and make sure they know you are an education ally.
2. Notice moods. Your child should be reasonably happy to get out of bed each morning and go to school. If your child does not have at least one or two activities to look forward to each week, address this together. The beginning of the school year, the change in season, or after the holiday break are good times to get involved in new activities. Having fun, interactive activities to look forward to can significantly improve a child’s mood. Getting enough sleep and eating three healthy meals plus snacks are also critical for maintaining a cheerful attitude and good health.
3. Imagine a happy future. Many parents cannot seem to talk about the future without causing their child to feel anxious or overwhelmed. This is a sure-fire way to instill a sense of doom and gloom in your kid about their options. Instead, ask your child detached questions about their future and listen. We need to allow our child an opportunity to inform us of how they view the world long before it’s time to leave the nest. It may be tempting to correct their less than practical inclinations, but don’t. Let them have their hopes and be a safe space where they can let them evolve.
4. Ask about their day. Don’t lose track of your kid’s emotional states. Ask and listen without phones within reach. Don’t sacrifice a daily check-in for a too-hectic schedule. Before or after dinner can be a good time to chat with your child, especially when there are after-school activities and plenty of homework. In fact, the more hectic the schedule, the more important it is to increase family downtime. Try to have longer conversations about how school is going on the weekends while you kick back and relax. Be sure to spend at least a half to a full day each week relaxing.
5. Review annual goals. Help your student establish academic goals that serve their vision of the future at the beginning of the school year and revisit these goals intermittently as the school year progresses. If you sense they are getting off track or distracted, say, “What are your goals for the year again?” Briefly chatting with them about their academic goals can reinvigorate your child to putting energy into achieving them. And make sure they set their own goals, not yours.
6. Make school a good fit. If your child is bored in school, maybe their classes are not rigorous enough. On the flip side, if academics are too challenging, your student may constantly be struggling to keep up. Talk to a school counselor to see what options you have for adjustments. Placement in the proper level classes is crucial for student happiness at school. Don’t let school become a breeze or a punishment for your child.
7. Check grades regularly. It’s wise to let your student keep track of their own progress in school as much as possible. But touch base with them about their grades often enough to help troubleshoot any problems that might crop up. The frequency of chats can vary depending on age and maturity level. Choose the routine that best supports your child’s success. And then cut them some slack as they take on more responsibility. Encourage your child to talk to teachers at the first sign of an academic problem, instead of waiting for things to get worse. Asking for help from older adults is an important life skill, and self-advocacy is usually rewarded.
8. Keep social commitments in balance. We all know kids who keep their social calendars booked, rarely taking any down time. Try to remember that self-care is taught rather than innate, and don't allow your child's hyper-social friends to make them feel like they are constantly missing out. Be especially mindful if your child has friends who don't have enough parental guidance. For some kids, having a few close friends and hanging out one-on-one may be better than being part of an extended group that thrives on social drama. Make sure your child knows what 'me time' means from a young age onward by setting a good example and helping prioritize self-care.
9. Be alert for bullying. Sometimes aggression between children is so subtle that parents don’t pick up on it. Furthermore, kids who are being bullied may not realize it, or if they do, they may be ashamed to confide in parents or other adults. When your kids are younger, volunteer at school once in a while and check out the social dynamics. Even children who have known each other for years can suddenly turn on each other, especially if they sense popularity is at stake. With tweens and teens, make sure to regulate screen time, social media use, and check devices regularly. Make sure you train kids in empathy and assertiveness and reinforce those lessons, especially during the tween and teen years.
10. Watch for red flags. If your child has an appropriate schedule but is still showing signs of being disengaged or not wanting to get out of bed in the morning, get some help. As parents, we may not have all of the resources our children need at our fingertips, and there is no shame in this. If your child is suffering from depression or anxiety, talk to a healthcare professional. Your general practitioner or family physician can ask the right questions and discuss treatment options to get your child back on track. Childhood anxiety and depression are on the rise, especially during the ages when kids leave home to attend post-secondary education. Make sure your child is ready for that transition by instilling a positive attitude and encouraging slow and steady momentum that will pay off during the first 12 years of school and beyond.
Journalist Christina has given her fair share of pep talks and lent plenty of shoulders to cry on. Parenting has taught her that life is topsy turvy and isn’t likely to become perfect anytime soon.
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