How to Help Your Student Start the School Year Off Right

As the school year starts, so do daily opportunities to help your children develop strong independence and self-reliance in their organization, time management, self-monitoring and planning skills. These “executive functioning” skills are a key to success in middle and high school and are being tapped more and more in later elementary grades. For some of us, this pulls on an area that we ourselves have weaknesses in. Building and exercising these skills will help at any age. Here are a few suggestions I offer the parents who come to see me with their children:

Student StudyingEngage your children in a discussion about goals for the school year.

Ask what went well last year. Did they develop skills and strategies over the year that helped them with homework or studying? Did they have any experiences where they learned the hard way what happens when they leave something to the last minute or when they didn’t plan out their time? Encourage them to think about what they learned, what they want to keep doing and what they plan to do differently this year.

Pick one or two small goals to work on together.

Maybe it’s having your children be the ones to initiate their homework more often, or experimenting with studying a little bit each night before a test or learning what it feels like to finish a long-term project a few days before it’s due. They might want to choose as a goal staying more focused during homework or experimenting with different places in the house to complete it.

Think back to what your children did to get themselves ready in the morning last year, and what you did for them.

What are one or two small things they can do for themselves this year? Are they ready to pick out their own clothes? Pack their snack?  Make their lunch? Remember to brush their teeth themselves? Children’s responsibilities in the morning vary greatly based on age, individual ability AND household expectations.

What’s your plan?

Some students need more guidance than others to figure out how they are going to start and finish their nightly homework or a longer term assignment. When possible, give your children guidance but no more information than they can figure out themselves. Before suggesting they get started on their book report early, give them the opportunity to plan. You may help guide them in time management. If a child says “I’ll study for that tomorrow,” encourage him or her to think through what else is planned for that evening and assess whether or not they have sufficient time. Some questions to ask are: “How do you think it would feel coming home tomorrow if you already had it finished tonight?” “Why don’t you experiment with doing it tonight this time, and see which works better for you?” or “That didn’t work so well for you last time. Why don’t you experiment with something different this time, so you can see which works better.

Encourage children to have an attitude of experimenting.

Some things will work for a child and some won’t. Expect growth, not perfection. If a child forgot to bring home materials for an assignment three times a week last year and now is forgetting about once a week, help identify and celebrate the improvement while continuing to work on further ideas.

Making mistakes is a great teacher. Avoid rescuing.

A child leaves homework next to the computer. How will he or she learn more: if you rush it to school or if some points are taken off for the assignment being a day late? One teaches dependence, the other, consequences that encourage rethinking, reassessing and trying a different approach.  Encourage your children to assess whether or not something worked for them, whether they think it will be a good idea to try that again and what else they might do instead next time (Where would be a better place for your homework so that you are more likely to remember it?).

Stay tuned for more on the subject in the coming weeks!

Written by Lori Wilson, Posted in Child & Adolescent Services

About the Author

Lori Wilson

Lori Wilson

Lori Wilson, Ph.D. is a pediatric neuropsychologist with JF&CS’ Child & Adolescent Services - Tools for Families.  She provides psychoeducational and neuropsychological evaluations to assess cognitive, academic, and socio-emotional strengths and weaknesses in children.  She has been with JF&CS since 1999.