Happy New School Year! I’ve been either in school, teaching school, sending kids to school or consulting with schools for over 65 years. The result? I see September 1 as far more meaningful as the beginning of a “new year” than January 1. Our family’s life makes a major shift every year about this time. With that shift comes new (or revisited) resolutions. And, just as with those well-intended January resolutions, there are some we keep better than others.
Having been connected to schools for so many years as a consultant and psychologist as well as a parent, here is a list of school year resolutions I think all of us parents should work hard to keep.
- Talk positively about school.
For many parents, their own school experience was less than wonderful. Even if it was wonderful, there were probably teachers you didn’t like or assignments that were really, really hard or days you hated school.
It isn’t helpful to revisit those negative experiences by telling tales to your kids. No, you don’t need to be dishonest. But you do need to emphasize the positive. Kids who are struggling need our empathy, but they don’t need to be encouraged to see school as unnecessary or too difficult or too confining. Help them feel good about confronting challenges and finding ways to get along with difficult teachers. Those lessons are as important as whatever math assignment they are struggling with.
- Set up a routine.
Kids of all ages respond well to friendly structure. This is doubly true if a kid has ADHD or is challenged by anxiety or autistic features. Set up an after-school or after-dinner routine that includes some downtime as well as homework time.
In many families, after-school time goes something like this: snack, play outdoors for an hour, come in and do homework while dinner is being made. In other families, the kids are free for the afternoon but after dinner they go immediately to the homework table. TV or video games happen only when homework is completely done. Having an established routine eliminates negotiating, arguing, complaining, and daily decision-making. It actually frees a kid up to do good work.
- Set up a workspace for homework.
When adults go to a job, they usually go to an environment or office to do it. Being there means they are “at work.” It is a visual support for doing work tasks. Kids, too, respond well to having a work space. It doesn’t matter if it is the kitchen table once the dinner dishes are cleared away or if it is a special desk. Parents who set aside time and space for homework give the kids a clear message that their “work” is important.
- Have supplies handy.
It’s difficult to do any job without the tools needed to do it. Make sure the kids have basic supplies like paper and pencils and art supplies. Keeping supplies on a designated shelf or in a special box eliminates aimless wandering around to find a pencil and keeps the kids on task. It also means that homework gets done in less time.
- Make a master calendar of due dates.
Every week, make sure that important due dates are entered on a master calendar. Help your children break long-term projects down into smaller parts with their own due dates. By setting intermediate goals and regularly reviewing due dates, you help kids avoid that sudden and terrible realization that their monthly science report is due tomorrow. It’s also a valuable lesson in time management.
- Attend parent-teacher conferences and check in with teachers now and then.
You are an important part of your kids’ educational teams. Introduce yourself to teachers. Go to parent-teacher conferences. Attend the open house. When teachers and parents know and like each other, they are more willing and able to stay in friendly conversation. Being actively involved with your kids’ schools keeps you in the know about larger concerns and successes that are affecting your kids.
- Talk about current events and school assignments.
Supporting education means supporting the value of knowledge. Kids whose parents talk to them about current events, politics and issues of local and national concern expand their thinking from the classroom to the world. Share news articles. When the kids express any curiosity, take the time to look up information on the Internet. Make sponging up information a family value.
- Make reading a priority.
It’s a fact. Kids whose parents read to them when they are young and who encourage reading as they get older are kids who are more successful in school and in life. Make a family ritual of reading time. When you are beyond reading bedtime stories, just establish a reading hour. You read your book. They read theirs.
- Make sure kids get enough sleep, eat well, and get some exercise.
It’s another fact. American kids in general don’t get enough sleep, eat more junk food than they should and don’t get an hour a day of physical activity. Sleep, good food and daily physical activity are the basics for being healthy and alert. Without them, it’s difficult for any kid to do well in school or, indeed, in life. It’s up to us parents to inculcate good habits.
- Limit screen time.
Not so finally: Take charge of time on the TV, computers and phones. Kids and teens, being kids and teens, don’t have good judgment about when and how to use devices. They are still learning about self-discipline and time management. It is up to us parents to be good role models and to provide the external rules the kids need until they internalize them.
Turn off the TVs during mealtimes and homework time. Confiscate the phones until homework is done. Resist the pleas for one more show or one more video game until other responsibilities (homework, bathing, organizing for tomorrow) are accomplished. Get devices and TVs out of their bedrooms. Make sure they get off screens and into bed on time.
We parents may not keep all of these resolutions perfectly all the time. There are always reasons why a particular day or situation requires compromises. But we can do our very best. When we do, and when we do it consistently over their years in school, our children learn the habits and self-discipline that will help them be successful throughout their lives. Happy New School Year, everyone.