“It is never too early to start talking with and listening to your child about the upcoming school year,” says Dr. Amie Duncan, Ph.D., Division of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
Dr. Duncan advises that parents begin talking to their child about school a couple weeks before it starts, and that they listen closely for their child’s fears or concerns. “About 4-6 weeks before school starts, the process of transitioning from summer to school should be underway,” she says.
“It is important that parents listen to and respond to their child’s potential anxieties about the new school year, especially if they are making a big transition such as from an elementary school to a middle school. It is perfectly normal to experience first day jitters,” she says. These feelings can be relieved with some of the suggestions below.
Preschoolers and Kindergartners Need to Know What Will Happen
• Parents should take their child to visit their school and let them play on the school’s playground, walk through the classroom and meet their new teachers before school starts.
• Parents can let their children watch educational cartoons to help prepare them for what a typical day at school will consist of and what they will learn at school.
• Talk to your child about the new school year, new grade level and new teacher.
• Prep for school success by establishing a “school area” to keep supplies such as a backpack and lunchbox.
• Take your child on a school shopping trip, and allow her to help choose a backpack, notebooks, and/or pencils needed for school. The supplies don’t need to be expensive!
• To help ease the transition for younger or anxious children, parents may want to tuck some small reminders of home (perhaps a picture) in a backpack or lunch.
• Parents should establish routine bed and wake up times to prepare their child for their school schedule. It may be helpful to begin doing this 4-6 weeks before school starts.
• Be Positive & Excited for the new school year!
Elementary and Middle School Children Will Need to Adjust to New Beginnings
• Parents should expect that their children may want trendy or “cool” school supplies.
• Parents should take their child on a quick trip to school before classes start to help locate classrooms, lockers, the cafeteria, and the bus drop-off location if the child will be riding the bus to school. If there is an orientation the parent and child should attend it. Your child will see your investment in the school.
• Right from the start, help your child get and stay organized by having a designated area to store their backpack and having a distraction free area to complete homework
• Set up specific homework/study times to help your child develop critical study skills that will be needed for years to come.
• Talk to your child about high-risk behaviors, such as drinking, drug use, and sexual activity. Middle school is the time when children may begin questioning about and experimenting with these high risk behaviors. Have this talk early and often.
• Encourage your child’s participation in at least one extracurricular activity or school club. Let her choose the activity. Children who are involved in such activities generally do better academically, have better social relationships, and are more confident, resilient, and happier. Make sure they are involved in some activities but don’t let them get over-loaded!
• Don’t hesitate to make an appointment with the school counselor right away if you have concerns about how your child is adjusting to school. Keep the lines of communication open.
High Schoolers Need and Thrive on Positive Reinforcement
• Parents should help their teen set realistic goals on how to earn the best grades and complete assignments.
• Parents should help their teen become organized by buying a daily planner and teaching the child how to use it correctly or teach them how to organize their schedule with a tablet computer or laptop.
• Parents should encourage their teen to get involved in at least one extracurricular activity or sport because it will help them meet people. Studies suggest that when children feel connected to their school they have another reason to do better academically.
• Even if last school year wasn’t the best for your teen, every year can be a new beginning and parents could model encouragement and enthusiasm.
• Continue to support and encourage good study habits with regular homework/study times. Look hard for opportunities to offer positive reinforcement.
• Keep the lines of communication open. Ask questions about what’s going on in your child’s life. (Use open-ended questions, rather than those that require only a “yes” or “no” response). Listen closely when the child expresses what is happening in her life.
• Set aside family time as much as possible.
• Continue to stay involved! Studies show that at all grade levels – even high school – the more parents are involved in their child’s life and the more they know about what is going on at school, the better their kids do. Stay in the center of your child school life and you will know what is going on, and how things are going.
*Image of “kids” via Shutterstock