Getting Your Kids Back “Into” School

17 Aug
Special thanks to our guest blogger, Dr. Keith Kanner, psychologist, author and radio host of Your Family Matters
Background: If your family is like most, your children and adolescents are still in a state of denial that school begins in about three weeks from now. As parents however, you are ready for the summer to end and excited about getting them back into structure yet you fear their adjustment into a new year of academics and wonder if they are prepared to manage the tasks ahead. Many parents avoid the concept of talking to their children about a new school year for they fear putting their children into bad moods and getting into a fight. On the other hand, when parents do not approach talking about getting ready for school and looking ahead to expectations for success, the avoided conflicts tend to emerge shortly after school begins when problems may already have arisen.
As with any transition, preparing ahead of time is always a good idea. When situations are thought through, discussed, and planned for, there tends to be less anxiety generated and a greater likelihood for success. Young children in particular are not yet capable of thinking in the abstract and plan ahead and need assistance in understanding what is expected of them and how to reach their goals. Many times parents place responsibilities on their children that they are not able to developmentally manage which can set their child up for failure. The responsibilities of school are common areas where parents either expect their child to manage themselves or rely on the school to teach them how to both organize and study.
Parents of both grade and middle school students need to sit down with their children prior to each school year and discuss both expectations and plans on how to help them succeed. Reviewing the importance of school, your faith in their abilities to manage their work, and discussing concepts such as studying, organization, and note taking are all essential in making sure their child feels prepared. Often times after such discussions, the parents and child determine that there may be some areas that need some assistance and this can then be provided which then serves to avoid a later problem. As I have discussed in prior segments, self esteem is generated when the child him of herself experiences success. When the child has the tools necessary to manage their life, success is more likely.
Structure is also very important.  Children and adolescents who have a daily “routine” tend to do better academically and socially.  For example, it is always a good idea to have an after-school plan which entails: 1) an after-school snack; 2) some time for play or sport; and then 3) a scheduled homework time to be performed in a distraction-free environment.  Once homework has been completed, a “reward” time can be offered to celebrate getting through their assignments after a long day of school.  When children have something to look forward towards, they tend to feel less frustrated and seem more motivated.
For the high school student, who can think in the abstract and hopefully understand that their success at this time of their academic life will serve later goals, discussions are also necessary but inquiring with them about how they plan to manage their school work will make them feel as though you respect their intellect. If however, you determine that they do not seem able to manage themselves well enough, you will have to help them as well. Allowing children and adolescents to “learn from their mistakes” is poor judgment on the part of the parent for the child and adolescent is not yet mature enough to manage their lives independently without parents.
A special consideration needs to be made for children who are also starting a new school. Aside from preparing them for the academic tasks ahead, care also needs to be made in terms of helping them adjust to a new environment with new social and developmental challenges. Visiting the new school prior to beginning the school year is always a good idea even if the campus is empty of students. Here, your child can at least get a feel for the new surroundings which will make them less anxious once they arrive on the first day of school.
Key Points
1. discuss school beginning with your child now
2. review expectations for the year ahead of time
3.  implement structure to help with success
4. make sure they have an academic plan and can perform the required tasks
5. get them some help if needed early
6. visit the school ahead of time if a new environment
Dr. Keith Kanner
Anchor/Host Your Family Matters

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