Helping children start, return to school
By Lois Neace
Follow these suggestions for helping your children be successful in school:
Develop a healthy sleep routine. A good rule of thumb is 10 hours of sleep a night for ages six through nine, nine hours for preteens and eight to nine hours for teenagers. Insufficient sleep can result in decreased ability to pay attention, increased irritability and more behavioral problems.
Convey confidence and offer encouragement. Focus on the child’s efforts and right behaviors. Communicate with your child daily by asking open-ended questions: Who did you eat lunch with? Did you work with a partner or in a group today? What did you enjoy most today? What was your least favorite thing today? When children have a positive social relationship with their parents, they are better able to handle stress.
Prepare for structure. Summertime has a different rhythm and pace than school time. School requires a child to participate in highly structured routines, follow rules on school property and the bus, interact with many people and absorb lots of information throughout the day. Even if your child is looking forward to going to school, new routines require making biological, psychological, social and emotional adjustments that increase stress.
To help children adjust to a new schedule, help them recognize their emotions with comments such as, “It sounds like you were confused.” Do not offer simple platitudes like, “It will get better,” which may not be true. Acknowledge it was not a simple day, and the child made it through.
Plan for the next day: lay clothes out the night before, make sure homework assignments are completed and in the backpack, have lunch money ready and sign permission slips. Establish a place for the backpack so it is in the same spot every day.
Offer healthy food. Your child is burning up energy, building neural pathways and physically growing. Provide nutritious meals and snacks. Nobody runs on empty, and your child needs healthy fuels like fruits and vegetables.
Limit extra activities. Extracurricular activities promote growth and learning, but parents must limit their number. Too many commitments increase stress in children and parents. A rule of thumb is a limit of two activities per child. Of course, this depends on your child’s capabilities and other family responsibilities.
Establish a daily routine for your child. Children need time to unwind after school with some unstructured time. However, “me time” should not last all evening. If the child needs to complete homework, it is important to avoid last minute cramming and panic. Set up a place to study that has good lighting, needed supplies and few distractions. If the subject matter is difficult for the child, plan breaks. No one is productive when stressed out. A daily routine helps the child to get into a biological, psychological, social and emotional rhythm, which is calming.
If children are attending a new school or entering school for the first time, follow these tips:
Before school begins, visit the school several times. Walk around the building inside and outside; attend all orientation sessions; meet teachers; visit classrooms. Know school and bus rules and rules for pedestrians and bike riders. If possible, meet other children who will be attending that school and grade. This is important because familiarity decreases stress. You can also reduce stress by discussing what will not change in your child’s life—parents will still go to work, dinner will still be served at the same time and the child is still loved.
If your child is entering school for the first time, you can increase familiarity by playing school and reading books about other children going to school and their experiences. Explain details about what happens in a normal school day—getting to school, eating lunch and getting home.
Overall, it helps when parents are upbeat about the child’s school, when parents convey confidence in the child being successful, when parents and child plan for the next day and for big projects and when parents and child communicate daily.
Lois Neace is a Child, Adolescent and Family Therapist, Licensed Specialist Clinical Social Worker (LSCSW) and Registered Play Therapist–Supervisor (RPT-S) at Prairie View, a faith-based behavioral and mental health services provider with a main campus in Newton, Kan.