School starts tomorrow in DC and for the schools that start after Labor Day, this is the first work day for a lot of teachers, counselors, and of course-my fellow school psychologists. This means that many people-parents especially-are rushing around, trying to get 65 things accomplished on their lunch break. I'm not trying to add more to that already-full plate. In fact, I'm trying to alleviate some of that stress (as you read in my previous post-stress is bad and not just for kids). This is a great list: http://www.nasponline.org/resources/home_school/b2shandout.aspx. It highlights some of the stuff that you should keep in mind as the school year approaches. You don't have to do everything on this list before the first day of school, but it does have some good information to keep in mind. There are a few that I especially like and want to highlight.
-Re-establish bedtime/mealtime routines: This is especially true for older school-aged children and teenagers. Little ones tend to keep the same schedule (much to the chagrin of parents whose 4-year-old routinely awakes at 5am), but older children realize that it's summer and have gotten into the habit of going to bed late and sleeping late. Move that bedtime back as soon as possible-not 2 hours in one night, but bit by bit. Maybe 15 minutes per night until you get to the desired time. Sleep is so important (another blog post at another time) and kids need a LOT of it. Make sure they are going to bed early enough that they are getting at least 10 hours for school-aged children and at least 8 hours for teens.
-Designate a place in your house to do homework: Homework starts EARLY in school. Teachers have a lot to get in over the course of a school year and homework may come home before you think. Have a place to put it and clear a spot for your child to work. Some children work better without any distractions, so working by themselves in a quiet spot may be best. For other kids, they need a little bit of background noise-nothing too loud, but for some kids complete quiet might just drive them crazy. Clearing a spot in a busier part of the house or allowing your child to listen to some music while working may be helpful. Just make sure that there is a designated spot so your (very smart) child won't be able to use the excuse that they did not have a place to work which is why they didn't get there homework done (I have heard this excuse used many times in the schools-it's legit).
-Regular and proactive contact with school: This, of course, includes your child's teacher, but make sure that you have relationships with others in the school as well. In addition to teachers there are administrators, counselors, school psychologists, social workers, librarians, the list goes on and on. Get to know these people, form relationships, and ask them what they have to offer to you and your child. Also, if you have concerns about your child please share this with pertinent individuals in the school. Your child's teacher is an obvious choice, but if you are unsure who to talk to next, the school psychologist is a great next option. However you decide to share and whoever you decide to share with, just make sure that you do share-early and often.
-Reinforce your child's ability to cope: As mentioned in the previous blog post, provide strategies to your child if he or she is struggling. Provide several, give them time, and keep changing them if they are not working. If you are having trouble coming up with strategies, a good person to contact is a psychologist. This can be your child's school psychologist or an outside provider, but having a psychologist who is trained in behavioral assessment and treatment (we all are) can be invaluable. If you've tried every strategy in the book and feel like you are spinning in circles and going nowhere, I would also suggest reaching out to a psychologist or your child's physician. There may be a more serious issue going on that a doctor can help diagnose and suggest intervention options.
-Keep extracurriculars at the back of your mind-not the front: Children and teenagers change at a rapid pace over the course of a school year. Their friends change, their interests change, and their extracurriculars change. If your child has not already committed to an extracurricular, don't rush it. There are so many options in and out of school. Allow your child to really discover what they want to do. Having some extracurricular is important-especially for kids who struggle in school. It is important for them to have time in the day to explore something they love and feel that they are good at. So don't push right away, but encourage your child to find something that interests them and pursue it. You never know-that thing could end up being their passion!
So that's it for today. Sorry it's so short, but hey, it's Sunday. I know the beginning of the year is stressful, but take some time to enjoy this day. Do something fun, get outside, go swimming-enjoy the end of summer. Make sure that your children get in bed EARLY. Then kick back, put your feet up, and congratulate yourself on getting (almost) everything done. Prepare yourself mentally for the school year. Have fun watching your children learn and don't expect perfection-from them or yourself.
This handout is from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). As a school psychologist, I may be a bit biased, but NASP is an AMAZING resource. Utilize the website often: www.nasponline.org. There is a ton of information written in very family-friendly language. If you have any trouble navigating the site, contact me and I can help walk you through it. And as always, let me know what you think of the handout/article and this blog. Comment below, tweet me @fpschDrSweeney or contact me directly. Have a great first day of school DC!!!!!