ABCs of Back to School

As summer winds down and fall approaches, families across the country are resuming the school routine.  With that routine, however, comes the risk of school becoming simply somewhere your children go, rather than a place where they excel at their full potential. The overwhelming majority of the time children take their cues about the importance of education from their parents, and a parent who approaches the school year intentionally can help to set the stage for their child’s success. Here are five quick tips for starting the school year off right. 

Agree on Goals – Taking the time to discuss goals for the school year with children signals to them that school performance and academic effort matter to their parents/primary caregivers, the most important people in their lives. Goals can also clarify the abstract, translating it into concrete steps for the child to work toward.  What it means to have a “good school year” or what constitutes “good grades” has a myriad of definitions. Goals that are clear and attainable ensure that everyone is on the same page, and when reached, can bolster children’s confidence and inspire them to continue achieving.

Be Present – Parental accountability changes behavior for the better and waiting until report card time means up to a quarter of the school years has passed. If a child knows that his parent may show up and observe class or that his parent will go online and checks his grades, it can motivate him.  The goal for parents is that there are no big surprises come report card time. The other reason to show up early and often is that if there are academic struggles, interventions to address them can be explored before the child falls further behind. Often if students do not have problem behaviors, schools do not proactively reach out to parents about academic issues.

Create the Environment – Think about the things in the home environment that make it easier or harder for your child to start off their school day rested and ready to learn. Are they able to play their video game or text all night because their phone, TV and console are in their bedrooms, which sets them up to be tired during instruction the next day? Are they eating pastries for breakfast, which spikes their glucose levels early but leaves them with little substance throughout the morning? Are they rushing to get ready in the morning and forgetting or misplacing their homework?

Distinguish between Needs and Privileges – Good job prospects as an adult when they grow up seems too far away and abstract to motivate most children.  What can? Tying effort and performance to things that matter to them now. Watching tv, playing sports, the use of personal cell phones and the like are all privileges. Identify the privileges that your child values most and give them the opportunity to earn it on a daily or weekly basis based on their efforts in school.

Encouragement is Key – Often parents feel the need to make their children stronger by focusing on what the child is doing “wrong”. Though well-intentioned, sometimes this is done at the expense of encouraging and praising the child for what he/she isdoing right. Acknowledging when they are working hard, helping them recognize and build upon their strengths, and praising their effort and progress can encourage them to keep working toward their personal best.

News Clip of Dr. Vinson: