newschoolyearAs the carefree days of summer wind to a close, children and parents are starting to think about the return to (or start of) school. While there is typically excitement about the new school year, there is generally some level of anxiety about what lies ahead.  The balance between excitement and anxiety is influenced by a number of factors including:  your family’s schedule, parent-teacher relationships and opportunities for much needed “down-time” from the weekday routine. As you embark on the new school year, try these strategies to help make the year a success.

Establish a realistic schedule for your family.  Most of us work best when we have a routine and that holds true for children.  Start by prioritizing; “What really matters and has to get done and what is less important and does not have to get done?”  In addition:

  • Limit the number of extracurricular activities (the younger your child the fewer scheduled activities he should have).
  • Determine, with your child, when homework will be done (after school or after play) and hold to that decision.
  • Make time for breakfast; the benefits to health/nutrition and starting the day off right are worth 10 fewer minutes of sleep.
  • Have a device-free dinner as a family at least five nights per week. Research clearly supports the long-term benefits of family dinners, which allow for relaxation, problem solving, humor and socialization.
  • Involve your children, even the littlest ones, in household chores so everyone is contributing to the good of your family.

Develop a “partnership” with your child’s teacher. As a career-long teacher educator, I can attest to the fact that individuals become teachers because they want to make a difference in the lives of their students. Believe your child’s teacher has your child’s best interests at heart and will do all she can to ensure your child learns and is confident in his abilities. Basing your relationship on that premise will allow you to have a true partner in your child’s education.

If a concern arises about something the teacher is or isn’t doing, raise the concern with the teacher and work through the issue in a way that is best for your child.  When you are uncertain of how to respond to a situation, rely on the teacher’s expertise in child development and learning for guidance.  For example, ask questions such as:

  • “What should we do at home to reinforce the math concepts you’re teaching in school?”
  • “Nellie seems afraid to try new things. What would you suggest I do to help her feel more confident?”
  • “Juan said he doesn’t have any friends in his class. How can we help him forge new friendships?”

Have positive conversations with your children about their performance. No one has a greater influence on the beliefs, attitudes and accomplishments of your child than you! In fact research strongly suggests children achieve at a higher level when parents (and teachers) have high expectations for performance. Affirm your child’s abilities/accomplishments by:

  • Modeling and actively encouraging a love of learning and joy in discovery.
  • Having high (but realistic) expectations for your child’s school performance.
  • Letting your children know you believe they will be successful because you know they work hard.
  • Celebrating your children’s strengths and supporting areas where they need to grow.
  • Sharing performance concerns with the teacher (versus your child) so you can find a solution together.

Respond to your child’s concerns.  If your child voices a concern relative to something happening in school, friendships or performance, seek additional information before jumping to conclusions (or your own solution). When your child raises a concern:

  • Ask open-ended questions so you can understand the root cause of your child’s anxiety.
  • Support him in identifying possible solutions or responses to the concern.
  • Stress the importance of perseverance and share stories of struggles you had as a child (preferably those you overcame through hard work).
  • Focus on her accomplishments versus “what others are doing/thinking”.
  • Validate his concerns, but put the concerns in perspective by reminding him of his strengths as a person, student and friend.
  • Contact the teacher and ask for her input (remember, this is a “partnership”). For example, “Sofia cried as we put her to bed last night saying she hates school. Could we talk later today so I can better understand what challenges she is having and how I might help?”

Ask yourself if your children are “happy” and are “enjoying” their childhood. While school success is critically important, it is also important to think about all aspects of our children’s development (social, emotional, physical and cognitive). For the good of your children (and yourself):

  • If your child is struggling with or spending too much time on homework (which should be 10 minutes per grade—1st grade=10 minutes, 2nd grade=20 minutes), work with the teacher to find ways to make homework more manageable.
  • Include informal opportunities for play, discovery and learning in your child’s schedule.
  • Set aside times for your family to relax and have fun (e.g., charades, board games, reading, playing with the dog and getting outdoors).
  • End every day by cuddling up with your children for a bedtime story. Bedtime reading promotes literacy, fosters an emotional connection and reminds us of what matters most in our world.

School affords opportunities for our children to grow and learn in a multitude of ways. Through active engagement in our children’s school experiences, as a role model and a participant, we can help ensure there is joy in their learning and pride in their accomplishments.

Best wishes for a wonderful school year ahead!

About Christy Tirrell-Corbin, PhD

Christy Tirrell-Corbin, PhD is the Director of Early Childhood/Early Childhood Special Education at the University of Maryland. Dr. Tirrell-Corbin’s teaching and research focus on family engagement, which has allowed her to spend extensive time in schools working with teachers and administrators to increase the active involvement of families in their children’s education. She also serves as a consultant for several educational organizations, including PBS Kids and National Geographic. Follow her on Twitter @TirrellCorbin.

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