The beginning of a school year is full of anticipation: buying fresh school supplies and new clothes; reconnecting with old friends and making new ones; the return to the comfort and stability of the school routine. Once term gets underway, however, reality hits and life can get stressful.
Here are eight tips to guide you towards a successful, happy school year. Some of these you’re probably already doing – great! Other things might be new and may take a bit of time for everyone to adjust to. Keep in mind that the end result will make each of them well worth the time and effort.
1. Involve Children In Creating Routines
After the fun and flexibility of the summer holidays, the school year calls for renewed attention to home routines. Children appreciate and thrive on the comfort and security routines bring. To avoid morning hassles, start the night before with the creation of a bedtime routine. With your child, make a list of everything they can think of to include as part of their bedtime routine and make a creative chart. Then ask, “What about getting your things ready for the next morning?” They can then choose the clothes they want to wear. Next, help them create their own morning routine chart. Let your children decide what time they need to get up, how much time they need to get ready, and what part they will play in the breakfast routine. When they veer off track (this is inevitable) refer to the charts they have created and allow the routine to be the boss.
2. Prioritise Sleep
Set a bedtime and stick to it. Turn off media about an hour before your child heads upstairs to ensure their brain has time to quiet. Try a warm bath or reading a book together – anything that calms and comforts them before they go to sleep. I like to share three gratitudes from the day and one hope for tomorrow.
3. Focus On Growth, Not Grades
Avoid the temptation to make school a competitive sport by comparing your child to others (siblings or peers). Instead, focus on their own unique gifts and talents. To set up opportunities for success, encourage improvement, not perfection, and build on interests. When things don’t go to plan, continue to be encouraging, with comments such as, “It’s okay to make mistakes. That’s how we learn,” and, “Remember how hard it was when you first tried? Look how far you have come.”
4. Make Time For Free Time
In our over-scheduled society, it is easy to lose sight of what is truly important. There always needs to be time for play, family and fun. Avoid overwhelming your children with after-school activities. Sports and other extracurricular activities should be chosen with care, not just for the purpose of creating a child who is ‘well rounded’.
5. Encourage, Don’t Praise
“You worked really hard on that. You must be so proud of yourself.” Encouragement is different from praise, which sounds like, “You got an A. I’m so proud of you.” Can you hear the difference in the language between encouragement and praise? Encouragement focuses on an internal locus of control (intrinsic motivation). It leads to resiliency and the child feeling empowered. Praise focuses on an external locus of control (extrinsic motivation) and builds dependency. It is okay to use a little praise. Every child wants to hear that a parent is proud of them. Just be aware that too much praise can invite your child to depend on the opinions of others and eventually become a ‘pleaser’ or ‘approval junkie’.
6. Keep Tabs On Screen Time.
There is a place for electronic learning (and playing). The key is finding a balance. Yes, kids are keeping up with technology and learning new skills that will help them in their lives. And yes, too much media use does inhibit person-to-person communication skills and building healthy relationships. To help your children balance screen time and ‘real life’, work together to set limits around daily media use – including your own. Get the whole family involved in a plan for reducing screen time. The plan should include things to do in place of screen time because it’s more difficult to give something up when you don’t have something else to do. Start with one time of the day to be screen free (such as dinner) and periodically add in other screen-free times of the day.
7. Share Responsibility
One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is to allow them to develop the belief that “I am capable”. Avoid pampering and rescuing, which creates weakness because children develop the belief that others should do everything for them. Children learn life skills, develop social interest, and feel capable by helping out at home and learning to deal with the results of their actions. At a family meeting (there’s more on these in the book), make a list of jobs and chores that need doing, then find a way to rotate who does what. This helps teach valuable life skills around home management and teamwork.
8. Take Care Of Yourself
Most parents today need to juggle professional obligations and parenting, often to the detriment of their own well-being. The first step in creating a happy, well-functioning family is to make sure you are a happy and well-functioning individual. No matter how indulgent or fancy the term may sound, self-care is crucial for our physical, emotional, social and mental well-being. Do one thing every day just for you: meditate for ten minutes in the morning; take a bath in the evening; do an exercise class during lunch. In doing this, you will be investing not only in yourself, but in your family.
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