Background: If your family is like most, your children and adolescents are still in a state of denial that school begins next week given the holiday festivities. As parents however, you are ready for the holidays to end and excited about getting them back into structure and routine. Many parents avoid the concept of talking to their children about school re-starting for fear of 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 again and looking ahead to perhaps new year’s expectations for success, the avoided conflicts tend to emerge shortly after school begins when problems may already have arisen or repeated themselves from the following term. In addition, when parents do not discuss this upcoming change, children will often go into a short term slump as they re-enter school due to not managing their feelings of disappointment.
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.
Each January after the holidays represent opportunities for parents to discuss change and goals for the new year. Parents of both grade and middle school students need to sit down with their children prior to beginning school 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. On the other hand, if your child is doing well, be sure to pat them on the back and tell them that you are happy for them.
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.
1. discuss school beginning with your child now to get them ready
2. review expectations for the “new” 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