9 tips for a happy, successful school year
The start of the school year brings with it all sorts of emotions. Nervous excitement. Hopeful anticipation. Happiness to be reunited with friends. Relief to be returning to routine and structure. Disappointment over the end of summer holidays that always feel too short. Dread over the return of those blasted school lunches. And of course, fear and anxiety about what the new school year may bring.
But ultimately, as our precious, back-pack laden babes head bravely into a new school year, most parents are wishing for the same thing. We want our kids to have a happy, successful school year. Whatever that may look like for them.
And with a little bit of forward planning, we can ensure our children really thrive at school this year. We can equip them with the tools, skills and support they need to have a successful school year. Here’s how.
9 ways to ensure your child has a successful school year
1.Acknowledge and accept ALL feelings
Starting or returning to school is a HUGE transition for kids. So it is normal and healthy for your child to have lots of big feelings during this time. It’s also important that you acknowledge those feelings and allow your child to express them.
So when your child says, “I hate school, I don’t want to go back!” resist the urge to say something like, “You love school, what are you talking about?” Or, “There’s nothing to worry about, school will be fine”. And instead, validate how they feel. Acknowledge that this is a hard transition that they may be feeling a bit nervous about. Let them know that everyone feels nervous sometimes, and that it’s ok to feel disappointed the holidays are coming to an end – after all, they’re lots of fun!
2. Be prepared
No one likes surprises. So help your child feel prepared for the return to school by talking to them about what will happen when they go back. Discuss things like: Who will drop them off? Who will pick them up? What is their teachers name? What will happen at lunch time? Who can they talk to if they feel unwell? What should they do if they need to use the bathroom? Eliminating the unknown as much as you can will ease any anxiety they may be experiencing.
You can also help your child feel prepared by involving them in the back to school process as much as possible. Take them shopping for school supplies and let them choose their own. Have them help you make some yummy meals and snacks to keep in the freezer for lunchboxes. Help them feel more in control of the process by providing them with choices and allowing them to have some input. This will make for a smoother transition for everyone.
3. Set up consistent routines at home
Having consistent and predictable routines at home is another way to create a sense of safety and security for your child. Stability and predictability at home sets your child up for success by reducing stress. And creating consistent bedtime and morning routines is especially important. Because when things run smoothly in the morning and your child is well rested, they arrive at school calm and ready to learn. And then they are much more like to have a good day.
Using visuals is a great way to support your routines at home and help your child know what it is expected of them. They can also help with your relationship with your child, by eliminating (or at least reducing) power struggles. Instead of nagging, yelling, and making demands of your child, you can simply ask them what the next step on their routine chart is. This way, the routine becomes the boss, not you.
4. Use rituals to ease transitions
Creating special rituals as part of your every day routine can help ease transitions like morning drop off and help children feel safe and loved as they head off for the day. And they don’t have to be complicated. You could try a special handshake at the school gate, a goodbye hug and kiss, or a sweet saying you exchange with each other in the morning. You might even like to pop a special note (like our Mindful Little Lunch Notes) into your child’s bag or lunchbox to brighten their day and help them feel connected to you while you are apart.
5. Resist the temptation to over schedule
Think of school as your child’s job. We all need down time from our jobs right? And while it’s tempting to enrol our kids in a bunch of after school activities, too many structured activities can really take a toll on kids. In fact, research tells us that over-scheduling our kids causes them huge amounts of stress. Kids don’t need more activities. They need more down time. Free play. Family time. Time to relax and just be kids.
But that doesn’t mean you have to banish all after school activities! Instead, try to be more selective and intentional when it comes to after school activities. Decide together – and ahead of time – how many activities your children will do each year, or each term. And then stick to it!
6. Avoid the homework trap
Your relationship with your child is more important than their homework. No worksheet, math problem, sight word, home reader or spelling list is worth damaging your relationship with your child over. If they ask for your help, by all means, help them out. But be mindful of your own reactions as well as your child’s. If you’re feeling frustrated, take a break. Step away for a moment, take a few deep breaths or pack it away and return to it later when you’re feeling calmer. If your child is consistently feeling frustrated and overwhelmed by their assigned homework tasks, it might be time to chat to the teacher about how to best support them.
And remember, homework is a contract between your child and their teacher – not you and the teacher, and not you and your child. If your older child receives homework, encourage them to take responsibility for completing it themselves. If they don’t want to do it, that’s their choice, and the consequences of that decision can be decided upon by their teacher, not you.
7. Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate
Communication is key here. If you want your child to have a successful school year, you will need to work together with your child’s teacher. If you know your child may need support with something in the classroom, or something is happening at home that may impact your child’s behaviour or performance at school, fill the teacher in! They can’t help your child if they are kept in the dark. Most teachers are more than happy to support your child any way they can.
And if you have a problem with the way your child’s teacher has handled something, talk to them about that too! Just not in front of your child. Because if your child thinks you have lost confidence in the school or teacher, they will too. A positive relationship with their teacher is vital for your child’s success in school. So keep it positive in front of your kiddo. It sends the message that you and the school are on the same team. Because you are.
8. Don’t focus too much on grades
Too much focus on results and grades can lead to anxiety and perfectionism in kids. Instead, focus on effort and progress when it comes to schoolwork. Make learning the goal and help your child enjoy the process by taking the pressure off!
We all learn differently and we all learn at different rates. Comparison helps no one. Don’t compare your child to others. Encourage them to make mistakes (it’s how we learn!), approach challenges and persevere when things get tough. In fact, don’t just encourage these things, actively seek them out. Celebrate them. Instead of praising your child for their grade, praise them for how hard they worked, for trying something new, for not giving up, or for asking for help when they needed it. And for more tips on nurturing a growth mindset in your children, see this blog post.
9. Remember that children do well when they can
Lastly, if your child is struggling in school, try to remember that they want to do well. No child wants to get into trouble. It’s not fun for them. So if your child is having trouble – behaviourally, socially, emotionally or academically – go back to basics. Ask yourself, what is getting in the way of them succeeding? Do they feel safe and secure at school? Do they have a trusted adult that they feel connected to during the day? Do they have the social skills they need to engage meaningfully with their peers? Do they need further support with their classroom learning?
Remind yourself that there is always a reason for behaviour. And it’s never that the child is bad/unlikeable/naughty, intentionally trying to be annoying, or enjoys pushing our buttons. Children are only ever trying to get their needs met – the best way they can with the resources available to them. It’s our job as the adults to work out what those needs are, and meet them. Because ultimately, meeting kids exactly where they are at is the single best thing we can do to ensure they have a happy and successful school year.
Sarah is a psychologist, mama of 4 and the creator of Mindful Little Minds. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, adolescents and families experiencing mental health problems and has a special interest in anxiety disorders in children. In her spare time she enjoys hugging her kids, drinking coffee, and telling anyone who’ll listen how tired she is.