The Christmas song "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" can be heard around my house in August, sung by my husband, Mike. His singing is meant to tease our three boys about the impending start of school. Like most kids, the Slattery boys are typically not super thrilled about the first day of school.
Along with earlier bedtimes and homework, kids often lament a new school year because it means adjusting to change. While some kids love change, for others it creates fear and worry.
"Will I like my new teacher?" "Who will I sit with at lunch?" "What if the work is too hard for me?" "What if I don't make any friends?" These are all questions that can keep a 6-year-old — or a 16-year-old — up at night in the weeks leading up to the start of school.
The first thing you can do to help your children make it through "new school year anxiety" is to validate their feelings. Many kids can't articulate why they feel apprehensive. Instead, they simply start showing physical signs of anxiety such as changes in eating and sleeping patterns, moodiness or irritation.
Ask your children questions regarding their feelings about the school year starting. You might even ask what your children are most excited and most nervous about. Then, explain that it is normal to feel jitters before school starts.
You can also help your kids by reducing the number of "unknown" factors leading up to the school year. Find out what you can about a new teacher, a new school and what friends will be attending school with your child.
If your school offers an open house to meet teachers and organize lockers, take advantage of it. If you have children just starting junior high or high school, you might walk through their schedule for the day.
When school starts, help your child with tangible displays of your confidence and affection. For example, you might give your younger daughter a necklace to wear, or your son a little teddy bear to carry in his backpack as a reminder that "Mom and Dad are praying for you." For older kids, leave notes of encouragement hidden in their notebooks or lunch sacks.
Finally, remember that your children feed off your emotions. For example, if you are nervous about your firstborn heading off to kindergarten, your child will pick up on your anxiety.
Your children need your prayer, confidence and encouragement as they embark on a new school year, no matter their age. But Christmas tunes? You might want to skip them!
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The first day of school is always bittersweet for me. As much as I miss the unhurried time of summer with my children, I also look forward to having life a bit more structured. With all three of my boys occupied from 7:30 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon, I can get huge amounts of work done during the weekdays.
In the excitement of my newfound time without kids, I find myself signing up for Bible studies, volunteer opportunities and promising everyone I know that "we can now have that lunch together that we've put off all summer." Then, add my children's homework, after-school sports and other activities to the schedule and we've got one busy family!
Perhaps you can relate to my tendency to overcommit. Have you ever found yourself so busy that you burn out by October?
Family experts are unified in their concern that busyness is one of the greatest threats to marriages and kids today. A couple extra harmless, or even altruistic, commitments on your schedule can mean added stress that may be detrimental to the health of your family.
So, this school year, will you resolve — with me — to do things a bit differently? If so, here are a few suggestions to help manage your school year schedule well.
1. Fill out a weekly calendar of commitments before the school year even begins. Don't forget to write in Bible studies, sports practices, piano lessons and time to get homework and house work done. After you've added in all your commitments, take a look at your schedule. How much margin does your family have? Realistically, how many nights a week will you have dinner together?
2. Never immediately say "yes" to a new commitment. If you are like me, you will impulsively give away your time when your child wants to get involved in something new or when someone asks you to volunteer. One more commitment doesn't seem like such a big deal in the moment, right?
If you have a difficult time saying "no," come up with a catch phrase that can buy you time to seriously consider adding that activity. Try using phrases like, "I'd love to get involved, but I need a few days to see how that would fit into our family's other commitments," or, "That sounds like a lot of fun. I'd like to run it by my husband and get back to you."
3. Protect your evenings and weekends. Obviously, all of your kids' activities are going to be after school, in the evening or on the weekend. Be aware of how precious those evening and weekend hours are, however, and guard them jealously. If possible, reserve at least three weeknights and weekends as "family time." You need this protected time to connect with your kids, maintain family life and simply to rest.
My mom routinely reminds me of an expression that kept her sane through her years of raising six children: Every time you say 'yes' to one thing, you say 'no' to something else. Be intentional about what you say "yes" and "no" to this school year!
Even amid the sizzling days of summer, it's not too early to start thinking about the new school year. A great place to begin is by considering ways to equip your kids to love school. Here are four practical ideas to help you do just that.
Share with your children that school is important and a privilege. Let them know that learning is exciting.
Start a list of things your kids like about school. Recess and lunch may be at the top, but look for additional positive aspects. Discuss these positives at mealtime, in the car and before bedtime.
When you get school supplies, make it a special time together. If your budget allows, get a new back-to-school outfit or uniform for the first day of school.
Look for "Back to School" activities at your students' school and make plans to participate in them.
Most of all, model a positive attitude about school and help your children get excited about the new adventure that awaits them.
Bolster your children's confidence by communicating that you believe in them and appreciate how they learn. If your children struggle with particular subjects and/or have learning challenges, stay positive.
Use statements like, "I believe God has a special way for you to learn." Or, "We are going to look into your learning style and get you support if you need it."
If you have older elementary children, find books to read about successful people who learn differently and perhaps struggled in their school years, but went on to do great things. Role models encourage children that they can succeed.
If your children are young, talk about going back to school and all that it involves. Make sure they are aware of the new things they'll encounter, and alleviate their fears and concerns as much as you can.
If your children have already hit a difficult area with a particular subject and/or a learning issue and have concerns about dealing with those issues again, be proactive and talk about ways to find solutions together. Encourage them that this is a new school year, and it can also be a new beginning.
Homework isn't a punishment given by the teacher. Rather, it's an opportunity to practice what is being taught in the classroom. Remain positive about homework, and your attitude will be contagious.
An encouraging concept to discuss with your students is the "10,000 Hour Rule" from the book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. He says that the greatest athletes, musicians, inventors and dancers practiced for at least 10,000 hours before they became really successful at their "art."
Sometimes kids think that certain people can just do things easily and it doesn't take a lot of work for them. But even Dirk Nowitzki, the MVP of the 2011 NBA Finals, practiced every day for 20 years! Sharing stories like this is a positive way of showing your kids that there's truth to the old adage, "Practice makes perfect."
Once they understand that homework has merit, give them a special place to do it. With each of your kids, brainstorm ways to set up homework environments suited to his or her learning style that will energize, empower and equip the student to study more effectively. Then execute your ideas so each child knows where his or her homework spot is and feels comfortable in it. Your efforts will help turn potential homework hassles into healthy homework habits.
Have you ever heard your child say, "I hate school"? If so, you know how deeply it can penetrate your heart. Parents can respond in a variety of ways.
Denial: "You've probably just had a bad day."
Blame: "If you didn't have such a bad teacher, this wouldn't be happening."
Anger: "Just deal with it. Why, when I was your age, I walked through snow, sat on a wooden bench, and ate dinosaur bones for lunch."
Empathy: "I can see how much you don't like school. Let's try and figure out how to solve this together."
When you determine the reasons behind your child's aversion to school, you'll be in the best position to help him or her. Without playing the "blame game," examine all factors, especially those involving the student, teachers and parents.
Depending upon your child's age, there can be a wide range of contributing factors, some easier to resolve than others.
On the positive side, in these earlier years, your child is still in a self-contained classroom. The teacher should be an advocate and communicate with parents to help determine, and intervene, if she's aware of bullying, a learning issue or some other contributing factor behind your child's negative feelings. Work together with the teacher to find a solution.
Middle School/Junior High Challenges
As a parent, it's natural to want the teacher to perfectly understand and instantly grasp how your child learns. Realistically, teachers have classrooms full of students who often learn in different ways.
Some years you are blessed to get a teacher who understands your child and his or her particular learning style, and other years that's just not the case. Unless there is an obvious "due cause" for concern, be careful not to impugn the teacher.
When you do feel it's appropriate to talk to your child's teacher, set up an appointment, be prepared to express your concerns with grace and begin positively. "I'm having a concern," you might start out, "and I thought you would have some good insights into how we can solve this."
Of course, we can't overlook another factor: ourselves. So, take a deep breath!
Could you possibly be part of the problem? Are your expectations too high? Does your child learn differently than you or others in your family? It's easy to think that the way we learn is the only right way, and then we attempt to mold others to our way of learning.
Remind yourself that your child is wired by God for a unique and specific purpose. Then remind your son or daughter of that truth from God's Word (see Ephesians 2:10, for example). Above all, listen with an open mind and a heart of wisdom, and pray to see the situation through the lens of love.
If you observe babies and preschoolers, you will notice they are curious about the world around them. They are eager to learn about everything. Don’t you wish you could keep this passion for exploration alive in their hearts, even as they grow older and head off to school? Here are a few tips to help your kids cultivate a love for learning:
A home with an enriched environment conducive to learning sends a message to your children that learning is important. The good news is that this doesn’t require a big budget. Weekly visits to the public library can keep your home rich with books, while reading to and with your children daily is one of the best investments you can make to nurture a love of learning.
Doing things together with your kids will teach them invaluable life skills. Let your children go grocery shopping and cook with you, work in the garage and help in the garden, fold clothes and play a role in other household chores.
In helping with daily activities, they may discover new interests, and you will be better able to hone their interests along the way. Additionally, as you talk with your children during these activities, you will develop the language area of their brain, which influences all aspects of their learning.
As your children grow, embrace the way they learn best, and set up learning environments best suited to their particular learning styles. You may be thinking, But I don’t know how my children learn.
To begin, become a student of your children. If you are a parent of toddlers or young children, you will notice that they are learning through all of their senses simultaneously. But as they begin the elementary years, their particular way of learning becomes more clearly defined.
Here are several learning patterns that you may observe in your elementary age children, plus suggestions about what you can do to enhance brain development on the home front:
Remember, as parents, your passion for learning is contagious. If you model an eagerness to learn new things, your children will become more excited, too, and become learners for life.