12 Tips for a Successful School Year
August is National Back to School Month! Whether it is back to the classroom or back to the distance learning routine, kids need time to adjust to getting back into a more structured world of learning.
Brook Lane therapist Jenna Garner, LCSW-C shares some proactive recommendations to help you prepare your child emotionally for a successful school year:
- Establish a routine early: Post the routine where it is visible to your child. Creating a visual cue will act as a concrete reminder of specific activities to be accomplished. The posted routine should include things such as morning chores, daily hygiene/grooming expectations, meal and snack times, and times when they will need to be ready to leave the house for school or begin online school work.
- Establish sleep patterns: Help your children establish sleep patterns one to two weeks prior to the start of school. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that all school age children get 9 to 11 hours of sleep.
- Be consistent: As much as possible, be consistent with bedtimes, wake times, and activities listed on the daily routine. Also be consistent with expectations and consequences.
- Foster an open dialogue: Talk to your children about starting school. Ask them about their feelings about the upcoming school year to help identify any areas of concern.
- Visit the school or review class schedule: If possible, visit the school or have the child help you set up the area in your home where they will be working. This will give them a visual concept of the learning environment and help them mentally prepare for the first day. For older children discussing their class schedule and how to get where they need to go can relax feelings of anxiety.
- Establish rest time: When school starts, establish rest/down time after the school day to allow children time to burn off pent up energy. Young children in particular need time to be active and have fun. Young and older students need to take a break from the attention that is required to do school work.
- Monitor emotional wellbeing: Watch for signs of stress and anxiety in your child when school begins. A lot of mental health challenges become apparent at the beginning of the school year. Indications of stress/anxiety may present themselves as struggles with interactions with teachers or peers, difficulty with academics or organization, issues during transportation to and from school, and feeling pressured to fit in with other students, including wearing the right clothing and/or accessories.
- Teach coping skills: Help your child learn strategies for coping with stress. While there are many tools, some fairly simple examples are: listening to music, journaling, being assertive, reading, enjoying a hobby, creative art activities, being outside, getting some exercise, deep breathing and other mindfulness techniques, and talking with a trusted friend or therapist.
- Monitor social media: Pay attention to social media posts, they may reveal apprehension or anxiety about the upcoming year or alert you to bullying or social pressures. Be sure the apps they are using, or sites they are visiting, are safe and don’t contribute to emotional distress.
- Encourage positive friendships: Invite your child’s friends over for playdates or dinner with your family. Knowing the friends of your child can help you get a glimpse into how they are doing emotionally as well.
- Stay connected: Keep the dialogue open and stay connected to your child. Be an active member of your child’s life. Make yourself available if they have questions, need to talk, or just need a hug.
- Make consequences clear: Make sure to create rules and verbally explain expectations for grades, school behavior, and communication about school activities or school matters. Once these are set, make sure to explain consequences for breaking these rules or not meeting the expectations before the school year even begins. This will help the child build their own motivation and understand where everyone stands going into the year.
Starting something new, whether it is a new school year or a new job, is difficult no matter what your age. Being sensitive to all emotions will help make the transition to the school year easier for both the child and the parent. Every parent wants their child to grow up to be a happy and healthy adult who is competent in the world. As a parent, the most effective way to help them get there is to provide positive, reassuring attention and loving care.
Jenna Garner, LCSW-C is a licensed clinical social worker practicing individual, family and group therapy at Brook Lane's North Village outpatient office. She also provides therapeutic services in Washington County Public Schools as a part of a grant funded program. She has over 13 years of experience working with children, teenagers, families, and adults in a variety of settings. Jenna is a graduate of West Virginia University with her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Social Work. Her education and career have always focused on her passion for working with children and families.