Each year, there is a tremendous media buildup in anticipation of the opening of the new school year. We are made to feel exhilarated by the messages of new beginnings. Stores are filled with new school supplies, the most stylish sneakers, first day school clothes, new lunch box recipe ideas, etc. Our creative juices begin to flow as we search for the perfect formula for the perfect school year. Families think about the new school year routine and discuss how to make it better. Sign-ups begin for extracurricular activities. Everyone gets a fresh start. It feels great- but sometimes, it’s only for a few days or maybe a few weeks.
After that seemingly joyous time, reality hits. There is homework to do, meetings fill our schedules, and social activities have begun. Everyone is so busy. There hardly seems time to reflect. The holidays begin to loom, the frenzy begins to build, and we all struggle to focus on the important aspects of our parenting responsibilities.
Once the school year is under way, it is a good idea to take time to consider your child’s school performance: academic, behavior and work habits. Sometimes we instinctively know changes need to be made but have difficulty knowing what to do and how to begin. You can begin with your data!
Some find the start of the new calendar year is a perfect opportunity to make changes. In educational circles, we talk about making informed decisions- based on data. You can try this too. You have enough information to identify areas of strengths and areas of needs. Your child and you know what is expected from this year’s teachers and you can use assessments and feedback throughout the school year in your review. Make a short list of what you learn from your data review. Include the following sources:
- Most recent report card
- Last year’s report cards
- Your child’s notebooks, workbooks, journals and returned assignments.
- The teachers’ comments from conferences, phone calls and/or notes.
- The contents and condition of your child’s room and backpack.
- Your observations of your child’s reaction to school and responsibilities.
If you are like most parents, you will find areas that are going well and a few that could use some attention. Choose only one or two on which to focus. Once you have identified the need areas you would like to improve, think of possible reasons this need exists. Chances are, you will be able to list a few possibilities. Now it is time to develop a plan to address the most likely causes of the areas you want to change.
Of course, every home situation is unique. Each household must develop its own healthy self. That’s the mission. It seems so simple, but trying to do it well can make our heads spin. As we put our energy into this pursuit, we need to know we are heading in the right direction. Many of the areas parents frequently want to improve (including academics, behavior and work habits) can preliminarily be addressed through the following three main categories:
Below are suggestions to help get you started on your own plan:
Communication: You will learn more when you are not in crisis mode. Keep in good communication with your child and with your school team.
- Mealtime: Make family mealtime a priority (no TV allowed). There is power in having regular meals together. You will need to decide what works in your family’s situation, but make it happen on designated days without exception.
- School team and medical team: Trust your instincts. If you have worries about a particular aspect of your child’s development, work with the professional team that can help you. Ask questions of the professionals with whom you work- teachers, doctors, school nurse or counselor, etc. Get your input and recommendations from the professionals instead of co-workers, neighbors, and well-meaning friends. Your child will profit most from ongoing, positive communication with the people who know and work with your child.
Modeling: Be a role model for your child. Children learn the most by modeling your behavior. Your child will copy the behavior and language that you use. They will also copy your opinions and methods for interacting with others. Only demonstrate what you want copied.
Organization: Pay attention to the organization in your own home and take the time to develop the daily routine. Keep it simple.
- Identify (and announce to your family) a consistent location where all school notes, book bags, completed homework, etc. are to be placed daily. Do not deviate. Only look there for items that need to be signed, etc. In the beginning of your implementation, remind your child of the location. Be sure you address all items that are in the designated spot each day without fail – no excuses. This may seem like an additional chore, but you will find it will ultimately save you time. Be consistent; eventually, it will seem natural to your family and you. Give compliments for sticking to the plan. Give gentle reminders when needed. Keep your emotion out of the implementation.
- Conduct daily reviews of homework, upcoming assignments, folders and book bag with your child. Have a daily conversation about what you review. Sort out loose papers in the book bag with your child daily. Get it ready for the next day. Based upon your child’s needs, performance and maturity, you may need to adjust your plan following initial implementation. Stick with this daily plan and keep the emotion out of your interactions.
- Watch the data: Once you have identified areas of need, choose just a few to target. Consistently implement your plan for change. Review the data on your targets for improvements. Change will be gradual. Keep in mind that you might encounter a bit of resistance at the beginning of the implementation – change is hard. Keep with it even if you do not see immediate evidence of positive results.
Parenting is a huge responsibility and we all have complicated lives, but home should give the child (and you) a sanctuary from outside pressures and stress. Hopefully, the tips above will give you ideas to begin to positively address some of the need areas you identified.
Each parent’s journey will be different, but the following holds true for all:
If You Want To Make YOUR CHILD’S World A Better Place, Just Look At Yourself (and the data) And Make A Change.
(Adapted from “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson)
by Sheila D. Allen, M. Ed. Supervisor of Special Education, Retired; Adjunct Professor
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