Backpack, check. New shoes, check. All the obvious checkmarks have been ticked off for a new school year. But the most important item on the to-do list may be less apparent—that is, is your child emotionally prepared for the new year in which they are now immersed?
Think back for just a moment. Remember that uneasy feeling in your belly when you stepped into a strange new classroom? Whether they’re showing it or not, your child is probably experiencing all kinds of emotions in response to this abrupt shift. Imagine if you had to start a new job every year, suddenly dumped into a room with a new leader and 20 new colleagues!
As a parent, helping children work through the emotions that come with any change is a great way to learn more about your child while preparing them for the new adventure ahead. In doing so, you’ll also get in tune with what your child needs and the expectations you should be having at this stage.
No matter what happened last year, your child is now a year older. It’s okay to increase your expectations of them—as well as the expectations they should be having of themselves—as they are more mature and capable. Consider things like homework, friendships, and school activities. If your child shows an interest in music, writing, chess, or sports, encourage them to look into school or extracurricular activities that will help them cultivate their talent. If they’ve endured rocky relationships in the past, talk about how they can make choices that will yield steady friendships. And if homework is a perennial bone of contention, start strategizing the best way to address this challenge, whether that be getting extra help, creating a schedule, or establishing a rewards system. To ensure you’re on the right track, talk with your child about what they think they need to succeed.
Whether the issues are social or academic, for the greatest success, map out a plan for how you can effectively mobilize this shift. After a summer filled with fun and perhaps little structure, some adjustment will be necessary—you may have noticed that a sudden shift to an hour of homework after six hours of school has resulted in some unnecessary drama!
Here are some ways to reset your thinking—and your child’s—for a successful school year:
- Check in each day. Take time to listen to your child, and respond in a reassuring but nonjudgmental way. This way, they’ll be more likely to confide in you in the future. Allow them to come up with possible solutions or strategies for any issues or concerns they have, then check in later to see if they worked. You may or may not have advice to give; sometimes just having someone to listen is all they need.
- Ease into the groove. Reach out to the teacher at the beginning of the year and introduce yourself as a parent who wants to work together to help your child succeed. Thank them for their efforts in the classroom. Ongoing positive communication with teachers usually pays off; they’re often eager to help if they know you are involved and supportive. At home, discuss with your child the best time for homework and then map it into the daily plan. Provide a quiet work environment without distractions. If necessary, reward good work with words, checklists, or incentives, but make a promise to yourself not to beg or fight. Rather, if you find that excessive homework is causing drama, it may be a good time to ask the teacher for extra help, suggestions, or even in some cases, a modified workload.
- Step up their game. Think about your expectations of your child last year, and remember what worked and what didn’t. Consider ways that you can encourage your child to be a better student, try new approaches, build new friendships, or become involved in new school activities that will make the most of their skills and passions. Then cheer them on!