For many families the yearly ritual of preparing the return to school consists of buying new clothes, a backpack, lunch bag, shoes, pencils and rulers. But for kids it can be something more than the shopping spree handles. For children, “back to school” means starting a new job. You know that feeling you have when you start a new job? What is my boss like? Can I meet the expectations? Will this be harder than my old job? What are my colleagues like? Will I fit in? These questions are not unlike the unspoken questions that linger below the surface for most children entering a new grade. How do we help our kids with these questions?
The first thing we need to understand is that this is an anxious time for children. That is the primary reason why their behavior may be worse at the end of the summer (and why we want them back in school). As kids try to stretch out their fun, push our limits, and deny the inevitable first day of school, our frustration rises. But we can respond better to our kids if we understand their actions in context with their anxiety. It may be appropriate for kids to have a last hurrah of summer fun. But it is also appropriate for them to prepare for the school year. Here are some tips for getting your kids ready for success in their new job.
- Address their fears with confidence and encouragement. All kids exhibit fears and doubts. These are often an indirect way for children to ask their parents “Should I be worried? How do you think I will do in school, mom?” Viewing their fears in this light makes our jobs as parents easier. Even though we may be emotional about our child’s next step in the progress of life (1st day of Kindergarten, to packing up for college) these questions tell us what our job is. We must reflect back to our children the confidence we have in them. Clearly expressing confidence in their ability in meeting your expectations is what our children need when they express signs of fear about a new year in school Of course, what you expect needs to be appropriate for your child.
- Discuss your expectations for their school year. What kind of grades do you realistically expect your child to achieve? Express faith in their ability to achieve. Then discuss other expectations such as homework time, bedtime and other house rules. The right structure at home can help your child succeed. By setting the expectations and ground rules at the beginning of the year, we can help our kids succeed right from the start.
- Ease your kids back to a school sleep schedule. It is hard to start the first week of school too tired to face the work. Towards the last week of summer and Labor Day weekend, set bedtimes so that by the first day of school your kids are “on schedule.”
- Plan on getting to know the expectations the school has for your child. Talk to her teacher at the beginning of the year. How much homework will there by? How challenging will each subject be for your child? Based on last year, what are your child’s strengths? Weaknesses? How can you support him best in those subjects?
- Set up an area for successful homework completion. Find an area at home where your child is comfortable working. It should be an area where you can be close to help out when he needs it. All the necessary supplies (pens, paper, glue, and scissors) should be available at your homework area just like at school or a home office. Discuss with your child expectations for homework. It depends on your child whether homework should be done right after school or after some play time. Just make it clear from the start that school doesn’t end at the final bell. It must continue at home. By setting some standards for homework with the right supplies, space, and time frame, you give the message that you value this part of their school work.
- Check in with your child about his/her friends. Children feel more comfortable in school if they have a good group of friends. Conversely, children have a harder time with school if they are lonely or picked on. Bullying happens frequently in schools. If you are worried about this with your child, check in with their teacher and if necessary, school officials. These issues need to be addressed at every school and parents shouldn’t handle it themselves.
We cannot take away the dread of the first day back to school for our kids. But what we can do is be open about realistic expectations and set up a structure for them to achieve. Focusing on this can help our children feel confident and ready for the new year’s challenges.