Tips to start your kids off on the right foot this school year
By Kimberly Blaker
The mark of a new school year is often anticipated with a mix of emotions for kids and parents alike, ranging from exhilaration to anxiety. Kids are excited to wear their new clothes, see their classmates, and participate in extracurricular activities. Parents are proud to see their kids reach another milestone and look forward to exciting new experiences for their growing child.
But the school year can bring about challenges as well that leave kids and parents anxious. So follow these tips to get your kids off to a good start and keep them on course.
Kids need their Zs
Sufficient sleep is essential to proper brain function. When kids are deprived of sleep, it can interfere with their memory, attention, and ability to learn. Insufficient sleep can also adversely affect health. It contributes to type 2 diabetes in children and teens.
Mental health is also affected by sleep. Kids who don't get enough quality sleep are at risk for mood swings, anxiety, hyperactivity, and aggressive behavior.
Unfortunately, because teens' circadian rhythm keeps them alert later at night, early school start times don't help. But getting plenty of sleep is crucial. Kids ages 6 to 12 need 9 to 12 hours of sleep each night, and teens require 8 to 10.
To help your kids fall asleep better, set a curfew and regular bedtime for school nights accordingly. On weekends, kids want to stay up later. Just try not to let their weekend sleep patterns veer too far from their weeknight routine. Otherwise, it'll be a challenge to get them back on track. Also:
- Remove media from bedrooms at night.
- Set a curfew of 2–3 hours before bed for caffeine.
- Keep bedroom temperatures three degrees cooler at night than during the daytime.
- Make sure your kids have plenty of blankets.
- Have your child take a hot bath before bed.
- Have kids eat a light, high carbohydrate snack before bed such as fruit or white grains.
Balance is essential
During the school year, kids have a lot on their plate. In addition to school, they have family, friends, homework, chores, extracurricular activities, and perhaps a part-time job.
But balance is essential to your child's well-being. The reason such imbalance sometimes develops is that parents see other families involved in so many extracurricular activities. As a result, parents think they're not doing their job if their kids aren't always on the go. Because kids want to make their parents happy and proud of them, kids often don't speak up when they feel overwhelmed.
Structured activities do provide valuable benefits to kids. Still, they need free time to play and socialize as well. When kids lack balance in their lives, it can cause them stress and interfere with their ability to sleep and optimal functioning. It can also affect their mental wellness.
Pay attention to emotional health
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adolescents has a mental health condition. A significant percentage of younger kids also experience mental disorders. Conditions range from anxiety and depression to attention deficit disorder, and in the later teens, bipolar and schizophrenia.
School success is strongly tied to kids' emotional wellness. Unfortunately, when kids exhibit behavioral changes, parents often assume it's just a childhood or adolescent phase as opposed to a mental health problem.
Child and family therapist, Donna M. Carollo, LMFT, says when a child or teen “exhibits symptoms of depression for over a month, it's time to seek professional help.”
Carolla points out a few signs to watch for that could indicate depression or another mental illness. These include “a child wanting to socially isolate, exhibiting excessive fatigue, a change in appetite, a lack of desire to do any of the fun things they used to, or a sudden drop in academic performance.”
Drugs and alcohol misuse or abuse may also be symptoms of a mental health condition. If you suspect your teen is misusing or abusing substances, intervention is crucial. You can make an appointment with a mental health care professional or contact an addiction treatment center for help.
You can also contact the local public behavioral health care agency for child and adolescent mental health or substance abuse concerns.
Limit cell phone use
According to a 2018 survey by Pew Research Center, more than half of kids between 13 and 17 worry they spend too much time on their cell phones. Just over half also say they've taken steps to reduce their use of it. Fifty-seven percent have made efforts to limit their time on social media and 58% to limit video games.
Cell phone addiction has become a growing problem among adolescents. According to Carollo, “Something is considered an addiction when the chosen behavior causes an individual to suffer in many other valued areas of their life.” She cautions, however, that a parent's values and a child's values don't always sync. If the cell phone is interfering with face-to-face family and friend time, school work, sleep, or exercise that's when it's time for parents to enforce some guidelines.
To gain kids' cooperation, ask them to help you create the rules. Also, allow your adolescent an hour or two of daily phone time because socialization is an integral part of teen development.
At night, however, require all phones are on their chargers outside of bedrooms. Other helpful rules include no phones during mealtime and that chores and homework must be completed before kids can have their phones. Also, set consequences for breaking cell phone rules. Loss of their cell phone for a specified period is an appropriate measure.
Get academic help
If your child has struggled academically in the past or grades begin to suffer, your child may need help. Any of the above issues, among other things, can lead to academic problems.
Some kids struggle with retaining information, understanding concepts, or have a different learning style. Also, learning disabilities can affect kids of all intelligence levels and cause academic challenges.
If your child is struggling in one or more subjects, ask your child's teachers about their observations. Then talk to the school principal. Public schools are required to provide an assessment upon request. If your child attends a private school that doesn't offer assessments, you can request it through your public school district.
Whatever the reason for your child's school difficulties, there are ways to help. First, establish a regular homework time. Also, set up a quiet, distraction-free area as a homework station and furnish it with a desk or comfortable chair. Kids' rooms provide too many distractions. Plus the ability to close their door can hide that they're not on task.
Also, consider a tutor. Some schools offer free one-on-one or after-school group tutoring. Another option is to ask a trusted family member, neighbor, or friend who might be interested in helping. You can find free online video tutorials at KhanAcademy.org as well.
Another option is to hire a tutor. Look for local tutoring companies, or visit TakeLessons.com or Care.com to find local tutors.