by Donna Nahlik, Prevention Specialist II, Chestnut Health Systems
The start of a new school year brings lots of excitement…and lots of new stuff. Look around any Wal-Mart or Target in August and you will see shopping carts piled up with backpacks, school supplies, lunch boxes, and clothes.
Along with all that excitement, though, can be some stress and anxiety. Am I going to like my teachers? Are they going to like me? Will I have any friends in my classes? What lunch hour am I going to get? Should I try out for the play? Where is my locker? The list goes on and on…and on.
For some families, there is added stress if the previous school year did not live up to expectations. Did my child constantly forget to bring school work home? Did he do poorly in a class? Did she forget to turn in assignments? These issues can derail a students’ grades and cause considerable friction for families.
What are parents and students supposed to do?
Well…at some point you have to stop focusing on what happened in the past. You no longer have any control over last year’s grades or homework or classroom. It does not do any good to keep harping on it to your child. Criticism will not make him a better student. The only thing that will do that is motivation, organization, and supportive supervision. You can only try to make changes that will help your child to do better in the new school year.
How do you do that? Let’s look at those three points:
1. Motivation- This is where a frank discussion might be in order. You can say something like, “I understand that some things went on last year that were disappointing, but this is a new year. Let’s make a fresh start and see if we can get it all figured out.” Most kids want to do well in school. Some just have a harder time figuring out how to do that.
2. Organization- There are lots of ways to help your child get more organized.
• Make sure that they have a designated work space for homework and studying. Do they like to do homework at the kitchen table or do they prefer to do it in their room? Use whatever works, but be sure to change it up if it is not working.
• Wherever they choose to work, make sure that they have adequate supplies stored nearby. There is nothing worse than spending an hour of valuable work time running back and forth looking for protractors, calculators, and colored pencils.
• Buy them a planner or calendar to use to record assignments, projects, and tests. Many local schools even provide those calendars to students. Encourage your child to use the calendar. That way they get used to checking their calendar instead of relying on their memory for important deadlines.
• Help them organize their backpack and locker. Some kids use individual folders and others prefer a binder that will hold all of their papers. Use whatever will work best for your child but encourage them to be consistent. Keep the locker clean. Important homework assignments sometimes cannot be found in a messy locker or backpack.
3. Supportive Supervision- Notice the word “supportive”. I have heard from parents who describe homework time at their house as a “war zone”. It does not have to be like that.
• Let your child have some flexibility as when they start their homework. Some kids like to start as soon as they get home. They just want to “get it done”. Other kids need some down time…or a snack. Set boundaries. Do what is going to work for all of you. Sometimes they will not have a choice. Evening activities and extracurricular schedules dictate when homework gets done too. Be flexible about timing…but make sure it gets done.
• Let them know that you are available for help if needed. Some kids do poorly on tests once they get to high school because they never figured out how to take notes from a chapter in their book. It may be something as simple as that. Other questions are more difficult. I am no more qualified to answer questions about Calculus than I am about how to perform open heart surgery…but I know who to ask. Figure out how they might get some tutoring in a class that is confusing them. There is always a way to get it done.
• Keep on top of it. Encourage your child to handle and manage their assignments on their own…but ask questions. Get into a routine of asking at dinner time, “What is your homework load like tonight? Do you have everything you need to get it finished?” There is nothing quite like finding out at 10:00pm that they need poster board for a project due TOMORROW!
• If your child is having trouble remembering to bring home books or assignments…be gentle. Remember that they may be going through physical and emotional changes that are caused all sorts of wacky things to happen. Instead of yelling or punishing, try to find a consequence that will have real impact. One parent I know starts a timer whenever they leave the house to retrieve an item left at school. How ever long the trip to school and back takes…that is how long the child owes her in chores. After a couple of days vacuuming and folding laundry, her son found a solution. He did not magically remember everything, but he started to write more things down in his planner. What do you know? The trips to the school slowed down dramatically.
Above all else, just be there for your child. The beginning of a new school year can be a new beginning. Good luck and have a great school year!