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New Year, New Beginnings: Creating Structure at Home to Prepare Children for Success

In their latest article, school psychologists Barrett and Vyas offer advice on routines that will help get youngsters ready for school and, ultimately, for successful lives.

Photo by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash

As much as the first day of school is filled with excitement, it can also be stressful for both children and families. While youngsters are wondering who their teachers will be and if any of their friends will be in their classes, parents and guardians are thinking about their children’s success. Although there are many ways for families to support their young people during the school year, this article includes advice on establishing routines and working collaboratively with your child’s teacher and school.

Structure Sets the Stage for Success

The beginning of the school year is a perfect time for families to reset, reorganize and restructure their routines. On the heels of summer activities and flexible schedules, parents and guardians are encouraged to transition their children to more predictable routines as the first day of school approaches. When the school year begins, children may also benefit from morning and evening routines, including getting ready for school, eating breakfast, possibly making their own lunches and preparing for bed. Check out the tips below.

  1. Especially for children in elementary school, families are encouraged to determine if they will take baths or showers in the evening before going to bed or in the morning before school. It is a rather small detail, but this can save a lot of time (and frustration) every day.
  2. Families may want to prepare or have their children plan their outfits before going to bed. Importantly, encourage your kids to keep it simple when it comes to what they wear. We should take a tip from the former President Barack Obama, who said in a 2012 Vanity Fair interview he wears only gray and blue suits and that he doesn’t want to think a lot about what he is wearing or eating because he has many other decisions to make. This brings us to our next point about preparing your children’s breakfast and lunch.
  3. For a quick and healthy breakfast, have children eat boiled eggs and yogurt. A protein-rich breakfast will likely hold off their hunger until snack time. For lunches and snacks, fruits and vegetables, which can be washed and cut ahead of time, as well as turkey and cheese roll-ups, are great choices.
  4. Establish a bedtime routine (e.g., not watching television or having access to cellphones or tablets within an hour of bedtime because the blue light from these devices can hinder optimal sleep; engaging children in calming activities such as reading, either independently or being read to; or taking warm baths or showers). This way, parents and guardians can prepare children for a good night’s sleep. Please refer to sleepfoundation.org/articles/children-and-sleep for the recommended amount of sleep for your child’s age.

After School: Balancing Work and Play

Because learning is hard work, children are tired after school and deserve a break. Since students are increasingly using computers and tablets during the school day, as much as possible, families should encourage their youngsters to relax by riding their bicycles, scooters and skateboards; swinging; sliding; climbing trees; running outside; or playing board games—all activities that don’t require screens.

Although there are different ideas about whether homework is helpful for students’ success, the fact remains that many teachers assign homework. Therefore, we want you to be able to support your children to the greatest extent possible. Consider the following tips:

  1. Establish an area for children to do their homework. This can be a room (e.g., living room) or an area (e.g., kitchen or dining room table) in your home. Though we are in the technology era and children will likely need electronic devices to help with homework, make sure their phones, tablets and computers are not sources of distraction. Families with multiple children should determine whether they would be more successful working in separate areas.
  2. Establish a time for children to do their homework. For some youngsters, taking a short break after school is helpful for them to unwind before beginning their homework; others, however, prefer getting to work right away. Ultimately, both approaches can be effective. After talking to your children about what they feel would work best for them, hold them accountable to the agreement. For young people who struggle with focusing for long periods of time, setting a timer could be very helpful to structure short breaks (e.g., after working for 10 or 15 minutes, they can take a break for three or five minutes).

Communication Is Key

When families and schools work together, youngsters will be successful. Consider the tips below to establish and maintain open lines of communication with your child’s school.

  1. Be proactive. Rather than waiting for your child’s teachers to contact you, call or email them first.  Especially at the beginning of the school year, introduce yourself and help them understand your child’s strengths and areas that need improvement. Also, pledge your support as a partner in your child’s educational success.
  2. Be present. As much as possible, make yourself available to support your child’s teacher and school events. Ask about opportunities to volunteer in your child’s classroom, chaperone field trips or assist with fundraising activities.
  3. Be persistent. In many instances, if you are told no, that should not be the final answer. Schools can find ways to meet families’ needs (within reason) if they are held accountable. As a parent or guardian, if you are not satisfied with the answer you’ve been given, there is always a way to elevate your concerns. For example, after speaking to your child’s teacher, requesting a meeting with an assistant principal or principal could be appropriate if you have additional questions.

Although they may not admit it and they don’t  act like it, children crave structure. So, as you’re establishing routines for the school year, remember that young people feel better and do better when they know what to expect. But more than anything else, you are an expert in your own children. As their first teacher, regular communication with educators will set your children up for success.

Charles Barrett, Ph.D., NCSP, is lead school psychologist with Loudoun County Public Schools and an adjunct lecturer in the Graduate School of Education at Howard University.  Follow him on Twitter @_charlesbarrett and Instagram @charlesabarrett using #itsalwaysaboutthechildren.

Desiree Vyas, Ph.D., NCSP, is a school psychologist and faculty member with Loudoun County (Virginia) Public Schools’ APA-accredited doctoral internship program in Health Service Psychology. Follow her on Twitter @DesireeVyas and Instagram @desiree_vyas.

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