It’s that time of year when we consult school lists and rush around trying to get everything into place for the coming year. While in the process of organizing all the material necessary for a successful year, it may be helpful to build habits and routines that can ensure long-lasting success. The following steps may seem simple but have proven to help children not only do well in school but have better social and emotional lives.
ONE: Establish good sleep routines
Good sleep is key. We all know how difficult it can be to function with limited sleep and this is no less true for children. In fact good quality sleep has been linked to better mental and physical health. We need to help our children benefit from adequate sleep even if they are afraid of missing out! Of course during the holidays many children have enjoyed long days and freedom over when to get to bed. Now that the school year looms, it may be useful to phase in earlier bedtimes. Each week set a bedtime that gets closer to the one used during the year to help youngsters to adjust to a schedule. Limit the use of electronics before bedtime and prohibit them from use in the bedroom as they can significantly delay the onset of sleep. Instead, establish relaxing routines right before bed with quieter activities such as reading, listening to quiet music, drawing or bath time.
Nutrition has been shown to be just as important as good sleep for academic and socioemotional success. Now is the time to think through what the meals for the school year might look like, especially in the mornings. Are mornings busy? Think about having pre-prepared options such as pre-made porridges, boiled eggs, sandwich fillings that can be quickly made ready in the morning. Fresh fruits should be accessible as quick snacks. Children often model the eating habits of their parents so a good way to develop an appetite for fruits and vegetables in your children, is to eat them consistently. It is very important for children to go to school with a good breakfast as they need those nutrients to properly engage in learning.
THREE: Develop a consistent work schedule
Homework time can sometimes range from a minor hassle to a full-scale war. If children have a set expected time that they have to work every day, it can ease some of the friction of homework time. Even now, during the summer it may be best to have a daily time of active learning to ease the transition back to school. Have a set time that children must engage in a learning task whether they have an assignment or not. Consistency is the key to success with children. Ideally homework time should be after a short break from school and before any T.V. or tablet time. Ensure that the assigned work or activity is completed before children are allowed to play. If you find that your child seems daunted by homework, try breaking tasks into chunks with very quick breaks after each e.g. do 5 problems or 2 questions or work for 15 minutes.
Listening to our children is one of the most valuable steps to maintaining a positive, healthy relationship. As children get older it can seem harder to get them to talk. Spend time with them doing things that they enjoy and patiently wait for them to share their thoughts. As they speak freely about their lives, it is important to remain as neutral and positive as possible. If you begin to lecture or ask too many questions, children become reluctant to share. This does not mean you should not address concerns! But make careful judgments about what you need to probe and how you can engage in a productive discussion. We need to be able to hear what is going on in our children’s lives as they re-enter school and face their own challenges, successes and failures, and difficult decisions. We need to be able to understand their frustrations and hopes and detect early warning signs of problems. Making the time to connect with our children will pay off for years to come.
Written by Dr. Shauna Miller, School Psychologist