Start the School Year Off Right
It’s that time of year, when the slower pace of summer gives way to the routine of the school year. Getting back to the early wake up time and after-school shuttle schedule can be difficult no matter your child’s age. But with a little preparation, families can do some simple things to ensure their kids start the school year off right.
Establish a School Routine Early
Healthy sleep habits are critical to school-year success. Children with inadequate sleep will have a difficult time focusing, and a chronic lack of sleep may even lead to behavior and learning problems.
Research suggests that children’s developing brains require more time asleep than awake. Having a regular bedtime routine can help ensure kids get the rest they need.
Chances are the school year calls for an earlier wake up time than summer schedules. Start making that transition to the new bed time 1-2 weeks before school starts. For younger children, begin by gradually moving bedtime back in 15-minute increments until the school-night bedtime is reached. For older kids, it can be difficult to institute an early bedtime. Instead try to insist they set an alarm, and have them move the time back by ½-hour until they’re at the necessary wake up time. For parents already at the office by the time kids get up, call at the proper wake up time to help ensure kids really do get up.
Limit electronics and TV time. Rather than cut them out entirely (which may result in revolt) try setting daily limits. To help enforce the limits, consider requiring all devices to charge in a centrally located place like the kitchen or home office. And try using deadlines, such as “no television after 9pm.” It helps to find alternatives such as listening to music or reading a book just before bedtime.
And, if it’s not already part of the family routine, have a daily check-in during the evening when every family member shares about their day. This is often best done during a family dinner (which, is also important as a variety of research studies have found that the greatest predictor of school success is having a family dinner hour).
Involve Children in School Preparation
To help kids feel more engaged and ready for the school year, involve them in the early preparation. Find out the required supplies and go shopping for them together. And, be sure to include kids in the decisions, such as what lunch items or backpacks they prefer.
Talk about school policies, such as dress codes and conduct rules and look over the class schedule together. It can help everyone to know what is expected and what goes on each day.
If there’s an orientation session, attend it. Knowing where things like bathrooms are located, the cafeteria, and even classroom locations can help kids feel less nervous about the first day.
Depending on the children’s age, either have them help get everything organized the night before school starts, or have them organize everything themselves. This includes picking out their clothes, making sure book bags are packed and by the door, and make sure any necessary school forms are signed. Having everything prepared will leave everyone less frazzled in the morning as you try to get out the door on time.
Talk about Expectations and Goals
Starting a new school can be a stressful time for kids, particularly for adolescents. Now there are multiple teachers, friendships are shifting and it’s possibly even a new school entirely. Sit down and talk with your child in a supportive way. That means instead of saying, “Don’t worry, everything will be fine,” actually listen to their concerns, reassure them the feelings are normal, and help them identify ways they might manage their stress such as deep breathing exercises, or a simple phrase they can repeat quietly to themselves when they’re feeling very nervous.
Also talk through your expectations for school and guidelines and rules for homework. The more a child knows what is expected, the better they will do socially and academically.
Instill guidelines and rules for study time and homework from the beginning. Create a good study area away from distractions and remind them that study time and homework comes before sports and playtime.
Talk about school situations and how to handle them like Internet safety, bullying and teasing, peer pressure, smoking, drugs, and alcohol. It can help to role play or at least think up things kids can say when they’re feeling pressured to do something they don’t want to do. Talk through scenarios can also help kids feel empowered and better able to handle challenging situations.
Have a Positive Attitude Towards School
Have a positive attitude toward school and teachers so kids will have a positive attitude. Try not to be critical of your children’s teachers, or of the lesson plans and homework assignments in front of them. If you have concerns, you can address them directly with the teacher.
Encourage involvement with school activities and sports to meet new people. Especially if it’s a new school, activities can be a great way to meet new people.
Use this time to send the subtle message that while summer was fun, a new school year is very exciting as well. One way you can do that is by celebrating.
Consider having a special pre-first day or end of first day meal. Some families have a special tradition of an out of the ordinary meal, like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner. Whatever the meal, the goal is to help celebrate the day, acknowledge it as important for kids and provide encouragement.
In addition to celebrating the day, remember to celebrate your children’s unique qualities and talents that they are bringing to this school year. Little notes in their lunchbox, a special message taped to the bathroom mirror in the morning are meaningful ways you can show your belief in them and gives them the best possible start this school year.
Video Interview with Dr. Mirgain
- Get the Best Possible Start to the School Year (NBC-15)
- Getting Back Into Gear To Go Back to School (NBC-15)