Stacking the Deck for Success:
Supporting Your Child Going Back to School
Mindy J. Miller, M.S.W., LCSW
It is that time of year again. Every family with a school aged child is experiencing the transition of “back to school.” This yearly trek of children from the safe and relaxing nest of summer vacation back to the structure and stress of the school day. Many parents are overjoyed that their little cherubs are going to be out of the home for the hours that they are in school. Many parents, though, are concerned with how their child is going to adjust.
Parents of children who have had difficulty in school may be as apprehensive as their youngsters. “Will they like their teacher? Will they have friends? Will they be able to keep up with the school work?” are all thoughts that cross the minds of parents of even the most easy going children. As parents, we all recognize that our children need the very best experience with school that they can possibly have. How the do we, as parents, do our best to ensure that our children have the best chance at success from the very first day of school? How do we “stack the deck” for them in order to give them their very best shot for an enjoyable school experience this year?
As in most things, being prepared prior to the first day of school gives us the very best opportunity to send our cherubs off with confidence. Beginning with the basics of having all of the school supplies on our children’s supply list from the school, it is important that we have the things that our child needs in order to be prepared. The earlier that we have these items purchased, organized, and ready to go, the greater sense of preparedness our children will feel when they think about their first school day. Even that essential first day of school outfit hanging ready in the child’s closet signals to the child that they have the necessities. Back to school haircut requests? Try to have these items taken care of in plenty of time for your child to have the confidence that they are off to the right start.
Does your child have a place in their home that they can sit and do their homework? Even kindergarteners are being given things to do in the evening to solidify their learning experiences in the classroom. Establishing a quiet, clutter and distraction free place for your child before the first day of school sends the message to your youngster that they are fully prepared. Keeping in mind your child’s age and need for supervision, ask your child to help you come up with a comfortable place for their studies. It is not necessary that you have a desk and a chair in the child’s room if that isn’t available, but having a place that is pre-established is essential. Make sure this location has plenty of light and the basic supplies for homework completion such as pencils, paper, crayons, etc.
Getting back into the basics of the school day routine prior to the first day of school also signals to the child that we are ready for this transition. Begin to go to their earlier school day bedtime as early as necessary for your child. If you already know that your student has difficulty in getting up in the mornings, why not give them a week to practice before it is crunch time? Getting up in plenty of time for your student to accomplish all of the things on his morning routine is important. Not a morning person yourself parent? It is important to children that they feel their parents are behind them in school success. Make sure that you as the parent are role modeling morning preparedness as well. Although it is never a popular decision to start your child in a back to school routine, it will make everyone happier in the long run.
Other school day routines can be preplanned in order to signal to your child that they are ready for school. If your family does not normally eat breakfast together, think about starting this practice a few days before the first day of school. Not only is breakfast the time that they will eat nutritious food, but sitting with the child in the morning is a good time to talk to them about what is going to happen that day. Proper nutrition in the morning is important to all of us. Even the “coffee for breakfast” crowd knows that this isn’t the best practice. Preplan what your family is going to eat for breakfast during the school week. Keep in mind that foods higher in protein will keep your child’s stomach from rumbling prior to lunch. If your child is going to take their lunch, have those lunch menus planned ahead of time with the foods purchased prior to school starting.
School preparedness also includes allowing your child to know as much about the environment they are entering as possible. Most schools have a back to school night in which the child has the opportunity to see their classroom and meet their teacher. If this is a new school, it is even more important that your student be able to find where the closest bathroom is to their class. Do they have a locker? Help them to find it and help them to get used to opening it before they have to do it on their own once school starts. Will they be riding a bus? Make sure your child knows what bus number they will be riding and if possible, meet the bus driver prior to your child’s first ride. Does your child have any classes with their friends? It is reassuring to your youngster to find out that there will be familiar people in this new environment. Do your homework as a parent as well. Make sure you have the opportunity to meet the teacher, principal, school nurse, etc. in order to tell them any information that they may need in order to help your child succeed in this transition.
Lastly, talk to your child about any hesitancy or anxiety that they may have about the school year. Listen to what they have to say and normalize for them that it is not unusual for children to have some apprehension about a new school year. Validate that you care and understand any fears that they may have, even if these fears seem illogical to you. Promote coping strategies with your child in little ways such as sending a note to school in their lunch box. Encourage them to talk to the teacher about any problems that may arise. Maintain the lines of communication between you and your child for any issues that they have once the school year begins and remind them that you are on their team and will contact the school yourself, whenever necessary. Role model remaining optimism and confidence to your child, even if you are slightly worried. If your experiences as a child regarding school were less than positive, you may have a greater difficulty with remaining calm. Try to remember, however, that you are able to use your negatives to create a more constructive experience by knowing what would have best helped you as a child. Also, don’t hesitate to consult a professional if you think that your child has a greater anxiety about separating from you and being in a social environment. Early intervention can be crucial to head off a potential negative mindset about school.
JOPLIN, Mo. — First lost tooth. First day of school. First time staying at home alone. Technology has given children another historic rite of passage: First mobile phone.
But how does a parent know when his or her child is really ready for a mobile phone? Assessing that decision is no different than other landmarks of maturity, said Mindy Miller, a licensed clinical social worker for Applied Psychological Services.
“There seems to be no minimum age,” Miller said. “Granted, I don’t see the purpose of giving a 6-year-old a mobile phone. It’s determined by their level of activity.”
Miller said the first thing parents should do is know the difference between a mobile phone and a smartphone. Where mobile phones provide basic communication abilities, a smartphone can be just as powerful as an Internet-connected computer.
That means a kid should probably have a mobile phone first, she said.
Some phone manufacturers make models specifically for younger children. Equipped with no number keys, parents can preprogram a few phone numbers and maintain strict control over call times.
No matter how old an intended recipient is, however, Miller said that phones can be expensive. That means guidelines and responsibilities should be set.
“I lost every coat my parents gave me, so I’m glad I don’t have a phone on my conscience,” Miller said. “If you give a child something like that and expect them to carry it, be prepared for them to lose it.”
Questions to ask
Parents considering phones for children should ask themselves:
• What do the kids need the phone for? Maybe a child is active with sports or other activities, and he has a clear need for such a device. Or maybe kids see their friends with phones, and want to be like them. Maybe they want to talk to or text their friends regularly.
Whatever the need, it’s important to determine it, Miller said.
• What rules should be set? Should a child be talking at 2 a.m. with friends? What happens to the phone at school, where there are usually strict rules against bringing them out?
Miller said a phone can be a great privilege that can be removed as a disciplinary measure, if necessary.
“Parents need to have the ability to take them away,” Miller said. “It becomes a good consequence.”
• Will using the phone exclude other activities? If a kid gets a phone and becomes glued to it in such a way that healthy habits change to more sedentary ones, then even more limits should be set.
“It’s just like a computer or PlayStation,” Miller said. “If a kid is playing ‘Angry Birds’ on a phone when he used to be kicking a ball outside, then that’s not good."
The level of parental attention increases when smartphones enter the picture. Many of those phones can easily connect to the Internet, including social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.
Parents who set up careful controls on home computers may find all that protection going out the window with the right smartphone, Miller said.
“If you have a computer set up at a central location, so you can look over their shoulders, you can’t do that with a phone,” Miller said.
Devices such as the iPhone, BlackBerry and Droid also get flashed around like status symbols, Miller said. Additionally, they come equipped with cameras and microphones, which enable trends that didn’t exist years ago, such as sexting and cyber-bullying.