What can parents do to ensure a good beginning to a new school year?
Start a routine as soon as possible. A few days before school begins, wake your child at the customary school-day hour, and change her bedtime to match. It takes a while for a child’s sleep habits to adjust, so don’t wait until the night before.
Agree on hours for dinner, showers, after-school activities and homework - then stick to them. Sticking to a routine is always a problem in our family. We start out like gangbusters every August, then fall apart as the year progresses.
Talk about issues that are perennial school-year problems - like how much TV is allowed early, and devise strategies to deal with them. You could create a “bank” of a number of viewing hours per evening or week that a child might use as she wished, provided homework is completed. Or, create a list of acceptable programs from which to choose.
Calling family meetings to address particular issues as they come up helps temporarily, but there is no replacement for direct supervision.
Get organized - for the first day and every day thereafter. To avoid last-minute rushing, get your child into the habit of setting out his clothes the night before and putting his homework in his backpack.
If you know what supplies your child will need - in many schools you can get a list from the office - buy them ahead of time. And review the school’s student handbook.
Take your kid to school and tour the campus. Check out the bathrooms, the main office, the guidance counselor and where you will drop him off and pick him up.
Leave a little earlier for school the couple weeks. That’s about how long teachers and administrators figure it takes for the rush of back-to-school to ease around campus. If your child is in elementary school, you might consider sticking around a few extra minutes to ease her fears.
While most parents do that with their younger kids, they don’t always consider the option with an older elementary-age child.
Provide a quiet area for your child to do his homework. Agree on a time for him to do it - and how much help, if any, you should provide.
One teacher suggests parents give children “down time” when they first return home. “You don’t want them hitting the books as soon as they get in,” she says. “You want them to relax, play outside for a little bit, then start on the homework.”
Make a habit of talking about school every day, not just for the first week. Don’t be put off by a child’s initial answers of nothing happened, nothing learned. Ask specific questions, such as: “What was the best thing that happened to you today? The worst?”
Fill out emergency contact cards and any other papers sent from school as soon as possible. Designate a spot - a counter or tabletop - where each child will lay out papers parents need to see, sign or send back to school.
Copy all school holidays onto your family calendar now, so you can plan in advance for needed child care. Some couples go through the list ahead of time and decide how to split coverage of the school breaks so neither has to lose too much work time. Sometimes you can get creative with a friend whose children have the same days off. You take care of all children one time, she’ll cover for you the next.
Make sure your child eats breakfast. It’s very difficult to concentrate when hungry. Try to make that meal as nutritious as possible. If you can’t afford it, apply for help.
As a mom who packs her kids’ lunches with great devotion every morning, I’m always mortified to find out they’ve traded their banana for a brownie. But many experts take the long view. Bernie Schultz, whose eldest son ate peanut butter sandwiches every day during his 12 years of schooling, says many children get their proper nutrition at breakfast and dinner. To ease your worries, concentrate on those meals and give your child some leeway at lunch. (Schools do provide a balanced lunch and salad bars, but it’s up to your child to eat his veggies.)
Discuss the dress code with your child before school starts. Know the student dress code - look for it in the student handbook - and make sure your child follows it.
Meet your child’s teacher or send her a note. Wait a couple of weeks for the back-to-school rush to die down, but then establish the lines of communication early. Don’t wait until there’s a problem.