Helping Kids and Teens Return to School And Succeed Academically

AHC icon onlyIt happens every year at this time. Parents and kids across the country are getting ready for the start of the school year once again. There are certain key practices that will make life easier for everyone in the family when it comes to managing schoolwork.

Generally speaking, families can start the school year off on the right track by remembering the following three concepts:

  1. Focus on the positives. Try to help your child get excited about school by setting a positive tone that shows enthusiasm and interest in multiple aspects of school. Talk with your children about the fun activities they will be able to do and the friends they will get to see. Discuss with your children the future benefits of school. Most importantly, praise your child often for his or her good work.
  2. Routines. Since regularity is a key factor in academic success, try to organize the household so that there is a consistent routine in which dinner is served at a standard time, homework is done at a certain time, and there is a set bedtime. Have your child help prepare what s/he can the night before (e.g. pick out clothes, pack lunch, pack school bag).
  3. Sleep. Find a set bed-time that allows your child to feel well-rested in the morning. Keep in mind that most kids need about 10 hours of sleep a night. Children may try to negotiate for a later bedtime on some nights, however, consistency is important for their health and ability to succeed academically, so be prepared to calmly keep to the same bedtime. Teen-agers require slightly less sleep.

Getting Involved

Another way to help your child succeed academically is by getting involved in your child’s education. Study after study shows that when parents are involved in their child’s education, the child does better in school. Parental involvement in education can happen in various ways. You might become involved by:

  1. Simply asking your child each day, “How was school today?” By asking every day, you will send your child the clear message that his/her schoolwork is important to you.
  2. Reading to your child, as well as listening to your child read aloud.
  3. Assisting your child with homework.
  4. Communicating regularly with your child’s teacher (be sure to do so early in the school year rather than waiting for conferences).
  5. Volunteering at your child’s school. Whatever your level of involvement, do it consistently because you will make an important difference in your child’s life.

Good Homework and Study Habits

The following key practices will make life easier for everyone in the family when it comes to study time and study organization.

  1. Turn off the TV. Make a house rule, depending on the location of the TV, that when it is study time, it is “no TV” time.
  2. Create an environment that is conducive to doing homework. Children need a work space that is free from distractions, yet allows the child to spread out school materials. Possibilities include a desk in the child’s room or the kitchen/dining room table.
  3. Time spent on homework. Consider your child’s developmental level when setting the amount of time for homework. High school students can focus an hour or more, whereas first-graders are unlikely to last more than 15 minutes without needing a break. Allow your child to take short breaks, perhaps as a reward for finishing a section of the work. Even older students are recommended to take 10-minute breaks every hour to alleviate fatigue. Also, watch for signs of frustration. Little learning can take place if the child is upset over an assignment, so have them take a break and return to the assignment later.
  4. Get organized. Get a large calendar that allows space to jot down when projects are due and exams are happening. Have school materials handy and keep them in the same space for easy accessibility.
  5. Provide Assistance. The answer to the often asked question of whether or not to help children with homework is yes, if it is clearly productive and done in a manner of providing assistance or answering questions (e.g. calling out spelling words or checking a math problem). The answer is no, when it is something the child can clearly handle him/herself and learn from the process.  Remember to make positive comments and stay calm and patient when assisting with homework. Nagging and frustrated assistance is rarely productive.
  6. Communicate with the teacher. If your child is struggling, this is a time to contact the teacher. Remember, you want to communicate with your child’s teacher early in the school year anyway, and this would be something to discuss with him/her. The teacher may have suggestions for a particular subject or may be able to recommend a tutor or extra help. 

Academic Self Esteem

Self-esteem is a major key to success in life. Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves; therefore, academic self-esteem specifically refers to how one feels about oneself academically. Parents, more than anyone else can promote a child’s self- esteem across multiple areas.

Two simple ways to promote self esteem with your child are:

  1. Be generous with praise. Praise your children often, sincerely, and specifically. (e.g. “I’m so proud of the way you stick with your math homework, even when it is challenging” or “I really like how creative you were on this social studies project.”)  Keep in mind that overheard praises can also be helpful in building a child’s self esteem. A child overhearing his/her parent talking highly of him/her with the other parent, hearing a parent share a proud moment with the child’s grandparent on the phone, or hearing the parent and teacher discuss positive aspects of the child can be sources of indirect, yet effective praise.
  2.  Teach your child to practice making positive self-statements. It is important to teach children to be positive about how they “talk to themselves.” There is a better chance of academic success if your children believe they is capable of learning. Teach your children to tell themselves phrases such as “I can get this problem, if I just keep trying,” or “I’ve studied for my spelling test and I know how to spell the words because I’ve been practicing.”  

Managing your own Stress

Lastly, be sure to manage your own stress level. It will be easier to assist your children with all the tips mentioned above if you are feeling relaxed and calm. If you become frustrated and upset, it may be more difficult for you to be patient and positive with your child. When you positively manage your own stress level, your children also benefit.

About Sarah Arnold

Sarah enjoys working with children, adolescents, adults, and families. Her approach with children includes a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) & play therapy. Her therapy style allows families to feel comfortable to address their struggles while gaining coping strategies. Her areas of speciality include work with ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, anxiety disorders, & mood disorders. Other areas of specialization include psychological testing, selective mutism, social anxiety, childhood OCD, and struggles related to disruptive behavior, attachment, grief, stress, parenting, & trauma.

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