What three words can spark a wide range of emotions from Vermont families this time of year? Back to school. A Google search of ‘back to school tips’ returned over one million links! Clearly, returning to a school routine following summer vacation can be an adjustment.
There is common advice to consider as we approach the beginning of a new school year: stock up on organizational supplies, reintroduce a sleep schedule, and encourage healthy eating. (We will all be sorry to see the end of creemee season.) What is often missing is how to launch the year with a strong emotional foundation and how parents play a key role in making that happen. Research shows that open communication between students and parents directly benefits academic performance. The first month of school is the time to set the precedent for how you want your student to involve you.
• It’s not always easy to get kids to talk. Ask your student about schooldays using open ended questions and validate how they may be experiencing things. While you may have a different perspective, stay curious, and encourage sharing rather than agreement.
• Ask your student who else they can talk to if needed. See if they can name someone like a guidance counselor, a teacher, or a positive peer. When students have several trusted sounding boards accessible, their overall well-being improves. The reality is that parents may not always be the first person a student seeks out when they have something on their mind.
• Check out the school webpage with your student and see what conversations pop up. Also check backpacks and school folders for information as this will help you to plan ahead together for various events and projects.
• Ask your student about how home and school rules may differ. Parent support for following different expectations can go a long way toward helping students settle into schools.
• Review internet expectations after a summer of looser screen time. Talk about how home-based use of school technology is a shared responsibility between students and parents.
• Reflect on successes from past years if your student expresses nervousness, and build on your child’s strengths. Share stories of your own challenges that became positive experiences, and offer to partner with your student in talking with their team, such as teachers or guidance counselors, if challenges persist.
• Your attitude about school is highly contagious. The more confidence you convey in your student and school team, the better positioned everyone will be for success. This does not mean to ignore problems. It just means that how you talk about school can influence how your child will invest in school. When you have a concern, be solution oriented, reach out early to point people, and keep your student’s voice central to action planning.
• Step out of your comfort zone to introduce yourself to unfamiliar parents. When parents model inclusion, understanding, and kindness with other families, students see this and carry the attitude back into classroom environments.
• Schedule an annual well-child visit. While this may seem unrelated, research shows that students who follow through with these appointments have overall better health outcomes. This has a positive impact on school engagement and expands your student’s team by having the pediatrician actively in the loop.
The main goal of that first month is to ensure your student knows you are an attentive partner as they take on another year of hard work. To balance pressures you all may feel, build in plenty of down time for the whole family, and make time to celebrate seemingly small successes. Most important, enjoy these final days of summer, and have a great school year!
Alice Scannell, LICSW
Assistant Director, Howard Center School Services