By Elizabeth Gelfeld
We asked five of PEP’s parent educators for their favorite back-to-school tips. Their answers show a variety of parenting tools in action, including emphasizing the process of learning; looking for tasks and responsibilities to turn over to growing children; having fun with kids and letting natural consequences do the work; involving the kids in creating routines for the new year; and preparing ourselves to give them extra support through the transition.
What’s most effective for school success is to focus on the process, not the outcome — on learning, not on grades. More specifically, if you use an online grade monitoring system [such as Edline or PowerSchool], keep your child in charge. Check it with your child and ask questions such as, “What are you proudest of? What are you surprised by? What class do you enjoy the most?”
It’s okay for you to go on Edline by yourself first, without your child’s knowing, but only to prepare yourself and to let out your emotions privately, in advance. Then, checking grades with your child, talk about the process and avoid questions like, “Why didn’t you turn in your Social Studies homework?”
Before school starts, talk with your child and say clearly that these are your grades; you are in charge of your grades — rather than using online monitoring as a spy tool.
With younger kids, as the same questions about the quarterly reports. Teach your child how to set goals for the next quarter, and keep putting the child in charge with questions like, “How are you going to move that grade from X to Y?”
Robbye Fox leads PEP’s Thriving with Teens classes and the Planning for Safe Teen Driving workshop. She has a 24-year-old son and daughters age 22 and 18.
The transition back to school raises some big-scale and small themes for our family. A small theme is just to keep a balance of work and fun, busy and less busy. I like to promote free time on the weekends instead of scheduling all the weekend time.
A bigger theme is thinking through my children’s growing abilities. Now that the kids are older, what new responsibilities and tasks are now within their scope of capability?
I like to remind myself that there is a spectrum of independence when kids learn life tasks. First there’s “Dad, you do it for me” (training), then “I need Dad’s help, but I can almost do it myself.” The big goal is for my child to be fully competent to do the important life tasks without my help.
I try to make that last category bigger. I want to stay out of the way of my child’s doing things independently. I want to give them time to try, whether they succeed or fail. That’s how they learn new tasks. Then I can honestly give credit to my kids and acknowledge the areas where they are in charge. They can call me if they still need help, but I’m trying to let them do things themselves.
A great first step on this road is simply to ask them what they believe they’re capable of doing. Just talking with the kids about their capabilities really helps. We can also discuss these growing competencies at family meetings. It’s great to look with fresh eyes at the whole gamut of back-to-school and household jobs.
It’s even better if they can decide how and when to do their jobs. It’s tempting to get into our kids’ life tasks, but each one can be a new opportunity for them to feel enabled, supported, encouraged and capable.
Brian Lewis leads PEP I classes and workshops, often co-leading with his wife, Kakki Lewis. They are the parents of three girls, age 22, 11 and 9.
I find having an upbeat attitude toward school to be very important. We want to avoid any negatives about alarm clocks or criticism, especially of teachers or schedules. I like to do a summer wrap up and talk about all the enjoyable things we got to do in summer and the nice break we all enjoyed. Then we talk about the upcoming school year and friends you get to see again and how fun it will be to get caught up with them.
With younger children you might ask them to seek out a new child they could help out on the first day of school. Nothing like a little social interest and teaching them to think of others, to take the stress off their own worries.
You can develop fun rituals for the new school year. We have always had a picture day, taking the girls’ picture in the same spot in the house each year. An added benefit is that you have a history of photos around the same time of year. And school supply shopping is always more fun if you plan ahead and do it sooner rather than later.
How do you transition the bedtime with teens? In summer my kids enjoy a later bedtime and a later sleep-in time. I know they should be going to bed earlier starting in mid-August. Try telling that to a teen! I find that talking to them really doesn’t change what they do. So, years ago I stopped lecturing them about bedtimes. I know that the first several days of school they’ll be exhausted. Their bodies adjust, and they soon put themselves to bed when they are tired and the new normal begins. Natural consequences are a much better teacher than anything a parent says or does.
Elaine leads many PEP I and PEP II classes in Northern Virginia. This fall she’ll also offer a Virginia class in Managing Anger. Her twin daughters are 17.
In the last few weeks before school starts, we start thinking with the kids about the school schedule — bedtime, waking up, differences in the new school year from the past one. Montgomery County school day times are changing, and we’re not sure how that will play out, so we’re brainstorming. For instance, the kids might choose to make their lunches in the morning instead of in the evening, as they did last year. They’re also thinking about new menu choices for breakfasts and lunches.
Have we started yet sleeping by the school schedule? No! The kids are definitely still in summer mode.
It’s important to keep the decision-making process flexible as we develop new routines. It never works out that we all sit down and decide, “We’re all going to do this for six months.” There are always changes.
John Spirtas leads PEP I and the new, four-week Parenting Essentials class. He is the dad of 9-year-old triplets, two girls and a boy.
What really helps me is something I learned from a preschool teacher of my children, who said, “Children know how to behave at school, and they’ll act out at home.” I keep in mind that they’re trying to do the right thing all day in school, and that’s hard. They have to use more self-control than they’ve needed all summer. It’s not surprising that when they get home they’ll behave differently.
I want to make sure I’m prepared to be more patient for the first couple of weeks of school. It’s also necessary to have routines in place at home. Then, when the kids act out, we can help them regroup by focusing on the routines.
This definitely is important with young children, but it works just as well with middle school and high school kids, and with typical children and those who have extra challenges. Things are going to be a little off-kilter for all children during the first few weeks of school.
We can get so caught up in the hoopla of buying things for school. But what’s much more important is for us to relax enough so we have the reserves to help our kids deal with whatever is stressful for them.
Carol leads PEP I, PEP II, Managing Anger and a variety of workshops. She has a 15-year-old boy and a girl about to turn 13.
How about you? What is your favorite back-to-school tip? Share it in the comments field below!
Elizabeth Gelfeld is a PEP parent educator and editor of the PEP Blog.