Back to School Tips for Parents

By Zainab Ntaamah, CRF Adolescent Social Work Intern 
Back to school. These three words can bring feelings of elation, doom, anxiety and excitement for parents and students. Whether your child is in middle school, a freshman, or an upperclassman, having their day and schedule run smoothly will ensure a successful school year and less stress for all involved. Youth who feel successful and who experience minimal stress are less likely to experience emotional challenges and to engage in certain high risk behaviors as a means to cope.

Here are some tips to get you on your way to a great start!

  • Anticipate and Address Your Child’s Anxiety. Going back to school is stressful for kids of all ages, so head off the stress before school even starts. Talk with your child about new experiences and transitions along with fears and anxiety. Look for signs of stress and/or anxiety. Signs of stress may include sleep problems, eating changes, short tempers, depression and worrying about or fixating on something for a prolonged period of time. Even though some students may not always have much to say or at least pretend like they don’t have much to say, there may be a lot going on. Be available, willing to listen and patient. What’s going on may not always be communicated directly. For example, the frustration at school may come across as anger at home. Make sure your child knows that you are a safe place and have an open door policy to discuss concerns with school, teachers, class/homework, and friends. Kids might feel ambivalent or anxious about returning to school for a number of reasons. Whatever the issue, talk about it and listen closely to the content. Get them refocused, and challenge any negativity. The key is to normalize it for them and keep a positive spin. Try to understand the students’ point of view in regards to their problems. Sometimes, adults can think that what a teen is stressed about is not as important, but it can be a really big deal for them. Not diminishing what feels like a big issue for them is important. Tip: Because school can be quite a stressful environment, have some definite fun time with family to rejuvenate.
  • Create a Plan of Action. If your child has a legitimate issue that’s leaving them unenthusiastic about returning to school—maybe they struggled with a subject or were bullied—doctors strongly recommend creating a plan of action and explaining it to your child. If your child had trouble in math last year, tell him/her that you are going to start the process of getting them more support, and then follow through. Or in a bullying situation, let your child know that you will speak to the school and involve the necessary parties to ensure that it’s being looked into and handled. Tip: Open up doors of communication with principals, counselors, and teachers at your child’s school before a problem arises.
  • Be Prepared and Organized.   Make sure your teens are prepared to start classes with all of the supplies they will need. Remind them to keep a supply of sharpened pencils and fresh pens in their locker, as well as extra notebook paper and any special supplies they might need such as calculators. Purchase color-coded binders to use for each class. This will not only help when they are looking in their locker for a specific class, but they can also store all the class notes in one area without mixing them up with another class. Tip: Choose binders with a clear front sleeve that allows them to display a weekly class calendar.
  • Practice Time Management. Speaking of calendars… With more activities and more homework, there may be more stress and more potential for error. Time management skills are vital in high school, but teens haven’t always learned these skills yet. Help your student stay organized and ahead of the game by keeping a planner. Some schools provide an academic planner for their use, but if yours doesn’t, it’s very easy to make one. Print calendars or week-at-a-glance pages from the Internet, or have them maintain a calendar on their computer or smartphone. The students will then enter all homework assignments along with their due dates on the appropriate date. Make sure they remember to enter tests and other important projects, as well. That way, they will always know what is due and be able to plan their time accordingly. Make sure to review the calendars periodically to ensure they are not getting overwhelmed. Some tips to help them through:
    • Always plan extra time to complete homework, in case it takes longer than they initially planned.
    • Do the hardest, or least enjoyed, activity first when they have the most energy and concentration.
    • Break large goals into smaller goals so that they don’t get overwhelmed.
    • Study a little every day so that they don’t wait until the last minute.
    • Get materials ready the night before so their mornings aren’t rushed.
  • It is also important to come up with a plan/schedule to help them manage their time after school.  Prioritize academics, athletics, family time, social time, church/synagogue/mass, etc., and devote a specific amount of time to any of the aforementioned that is important to them. Tip: A family calendar put in heavy traffic areas can help the family stay in tune to upcoming events and practices.
  • Create a Homework Area.   Assign a place at home that is your child’s designated homework area. Choose an area that is free of distractions and with sufficient lighting, such as a desk in their bedroom or dining room table, so they can concentrate on school work. Tip: This area should be off-limits to anyone besides your child during their designated homework time.
  • Get Plenty of Rest. Having an adequate amount of sleep is imperative to having a successful school year. Students who tend to sleep less than eight hours a night may not be as alert during the day causing them to lose valuable instruction time. In addition to school work, if they participate in after-school activities or sports, they will need additional rest to be at their optimum. Tip: Make a concerted effort to have a designated “no electronics time” nightly to help ensure they have enough rest.
  • Eat a Good Breakfast. Ensure your teen starts their school day off with a healthy breakfast to get them through their morning. If they are not big breakfast eaters, then consider offering them a protein bar or smoothie to stave off hunger. In addition to breakfast being an important meal, an unhurried morning doesn’t put additional pressure on teens. The stress of everyone running around and feeling like they are already late starts the day off under pressure, so ensure enough time is allocated to eat a healthy breakfast. Tip: Do as much as possible the night before to prep for an easier stress-free morning.
  • Get Involved and Stay Involved. There is nothing more important that you, as a parent, can do to help your child in school than getting involved and staying involved in their education. Search for various resources that may be available to you at your child’s school. These may include:
    • Meeting their teachers and finding out what their expectations are.
    • Finding out if their teachers post assignments on personal or school’s websites.
    • Checking the homework website every day to make sure that their homework is complete.
    • Finding out if their school has a homework hotline.
    • Looking for resources their school has to offer in preparation for specific exams, such as STAAR, SAT, ACT, etc.
    • Knowing when their various teachers offer tutoring (teachers are usually required to offer at least an hour or two of additional hours either before or after school).
    • Encouraging your teen to research if their library has a wide selection of study materials (many have a section that offers SAT, ACT, and STAAR prep books available to check out).
    • Finding out what services (e.g. counseling, tutoring, or mentoring) are available at their school, in case it is ever needed.
    • Going to parent-teacher conferences, even if they are doing well.
    • Talking to your child about school.
  • Ask for Help if Needed. This goes for parents and teenagers alike. Encourage your teen to not wait until they are so far behind that catching up seems impossible. Open doors of communication so that they feel free to tell you they are struggling and ask for help. As parents, follow your instincts if you feel your child could benefit from help from a doctor or counselor. Stomachaches or headaches are common complaints when school starts. The most important thing to do is to tell your child you understand, and that you believe they are experiencing pain. Do the best you can with your parental instinct to determine whether it’s physical or psychological. If pain persists, it’s time to consult a pediatrician or school counselor. Tip: Taking a few moments each evening to discuss their day can help to ascertain if their symptoms are truly physical or if they are indeed psychological.

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