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Back to School: Tips and Tricks to Start the Year Right

By Amanda Setlak, Ph.D., ​Boys Town

The end of summer vacation usually brings groans from children and parents alike, though for different reasons.

For kids, the end of summer means getting back into the swing of learning and sitting in the classroom. For parents, it’s getting kids back on a morning, bedtime and school routine, and juggling hectic schedules.

Boys Town is here to help get learning on track for families:

  • Grandma’s rule. Grandma’s rule refers to the general stance of eating your peas before receiving dessert. The rule doesn’t just apply to food; it can be widely applied to desired objects or activities. For example, access to any electronics should be withheld until the morning routine is complete.
  • Wake-times and bedtimes. Keep a consistent wake-time, even on weekends, and refrain from naps for school-age children. If your child is having a hard time falling asleep at the target bedtime, push back the time to within 30 minutes of when they’re likely to fall asleep and then gradually adjust it to be closer to the expected time.
  • Morning routine expectations. If your child struggles with organization or attention difficulties, mornings can be especially difficult. First go through a few dry runs and identify where struggles occur. Then put a system in place to help motivate your child during the morning routine, using techniques such as grandma’s rule, visual schedules and rewards. Always try to avoid rationales, such as an important meeting that you can’t miss, because this will often increase frustration or grumpiness. Give yourself enough time to get ready, bring out your positive vibes and keep your cool!
  • Homework routine. Your child may not have much homework at the beginning of the school year, but it is still important to establish a homework routine that fits with your family’s schedule. Generally, kids are more successful with homework completion shortly after school. The later homework is started, the more likelihood your child will demonstrate frustration, lack of motivation or behavior problems. Determine what time homework will be started, remove distractions and ensure a quiet work area with access to necessary study materials. Treat homework similar to a sporting event by cheering for accomplishments and offering support and encouragement when difficulties arise.
  • School participation. Researchers have consistently found that when parents are active participants in their child’s school activities, academic performance improves. The most effective approach to partnering with your child’s school and teacher(s) is to be involved from the beginning. If your work schedule does not allow for participation during school hours, there are other ways to be involved, such as e-mails to the teacher and a notebook for back-and-forth communication to ensure that schoolwork is completed and returned. Try to meet with the teacher at the beginning of the year so that the teacher knows who you are. Also try to have as many positive interactions as possible, as communicating only about concerns can hamper the parent-teacher relationship.
  • Learning concerns. If your child is struggling at school, don’t wait for the teacher to contact you. Taking the initiative to address concerns is another way to be actively involved in your child’s schooling. Notice what they are doing well and any areas where they seem to struggle. Learning difficulties are often embarrassing for kids, and they may act out to avoid tasks that are difficult. Whenever there is an increase in behavior surrounding schoolwork, be sure not to overlook learning problems. At the first sign of concerns, check in with your child’s teacher(s) and inquire about additional support or services available at school.