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 bus or the car 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. 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.
Attitude check. The point of view you have towards school and teachers is going to be mirrored by your children. If you criticize and disrespect 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? 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.
Notice moods. Kids 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 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.
Imagine a happy future. Many parents cannot seem to talk about the future without causing kids to feel anxious or overwhelmed. This is a surefire way to instill a sense of doom and gloom in kids about their options. Instead why not simply ask detached questions about the future and listen. We need to allow children an opportunity to inform us how they view the world long before it’s time to leave the nest. It may be tempting to correct their less practical inclinations, but don’t. Let them have their hopes and be a safe space where they can let them evolve.
Ask about the day. Don’t lose track of kids’ 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, 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 down time. 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.
Review annual goals. Help your student establish academic goals that serve their vision of the future at the beginning of the school year and re-visit them intermittently as the year progresses. If you sense they are getting off track or distracted, simply say, “What are your goals for the year again?” Briefly chatting about goals can reinvigorate kids to put energy into achieving them. If kids are not keen on their goals, make sure they set their goals and not yours.
Make school a good fit. If your child is bored in school, maybe 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 the school counselor to see what options you have for making adjustments. Placement in the proper level classes is crucial for student happiness at school. Don’t let school become a breeze or a punishment.
Check grades regularly. It’s wise to let students keep track of their own progress in school as much as possible. But touch base with them about 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 kids 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.
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.
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.
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 health care 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 college. 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 twelve years of school and beyond.
Journalist Christina Katz has given her fair share of pep talks and lent plenty of shoulders to cry on. Parenting has taught her that life is Wabi-Sabi and isn’t likely to become perfect any time soon.