Whether your tween is returning to class or you’re sending your little one to school for the first time, you’re bound to feel mixed emotions. Relief that they’re off your hands; anxiety about whether they’re up for the challenges ahead. So, we did the research for you and turned to the real experts—teachers who are also parents themselves—for advice that will put your mind at ease. This plan will help your kids get the most out of the school year.
Here are 9 tips to take this school year from fluff to fantastic–for everyone!
1. Meet and Greet the teacher
Introduce yourself and say something like, “I’m looking forward to working together to help my child succeed,” suggests Jennifer Paziuk, an elementary teacher and mother of three in Oakville, Ont. (A Tim Hortons coffee is always appreciated, too, she says—hey, they’re as caffeine addicted as you!) This lets teachers know they’re trusted and valued, and sets the stage for easy communication. You also might want to share any issues that are happening on the home front. A hornet’s nest of squabbling siblings or parents mired in career calamities can pull the rug out from under even the most easygoing child. “
2. Set two alarm clocks, if you have to
Mornings can be tough, between competition for the bathroom, assembly of both breakfast and school lunches, frantic searches for missing permission slips and fashion crises (yours and the kids). Teachers sympathize, but confirm that casual (or chronic) lateness is a bad habit that erodes children’s respect for school. Same goes for ad-hoc vacations on school days thanks to that mid-January discount fare to Walt Disney World. These create the mindset that school is secondary, says Klein. Absences should only be due to illness or truly exceptional events (and no, a Prada sample sale doesn’t count).
3. Get both sides of the story
It’s hard not to get fired up when listening to your child’s (almost certainly one-sided) tale of woe: A teacher who’s picking on them. Beastly classmates. Some horrendous injustice. But consider that our little angels’ haloes often slip when we’re not around. Andrea McKay, an elementary teacher and mother of two sons in Bowen Island, B.C., puts it charitably when she says that children tend to behave differently at school than at home.
4. Work the hot dog grill on Sports Day
Time is scarce, especially for working parents, but taking even a few hours off to volunteer can give you some real insights into the school and your child, says Joanne Guppy of West Vancouver, a mother of two who recently retired after 28 years of teaching. “I always had parents in my classroom, and many said, ‘Now I have a much better understanding of what takes place in my child’s classroom.” Too busy? Then make a point of asking questions about what they’re studying.
5. Get your hands off his science project
We’ve all stayed up past bedtime to encourage a child struggling with a project…only to discover that his classmate (whose father just happens to work for NASA) has handed in an atom-splitter made of Popsicle sticks, elastic bands and a homemade laser. But take heart, says McKay: Teachers know when it’s not the kid’s work. Support your children’s learning, help a little, but don’t do it for them.
Establishing a homework routine will help them manage the load. A no-tv-or-phone-during-homework policy also eliminates the stress of daily negotiations: “Can I please just watch Gilmore Girls and then I’ll do my homework..?” Finally, if you see your child struggling with a concept, encourage him to go to the teacher or do so yourself.
6. Don’t tell her you were lousy at math, too
That gives her permission to fail, says Klein. Instead, say: “Yes, I had to work hard to do well in math, too.” Comparing your kids to their siblings, the class brainiac or your academic past makes potentially limiting assumptions about your children’s potential. “Every year, I hear parents make these comparisons, and they’ll even do it right in front of me,” says Klein. “I find it somewhat disturbing, because it really is degrading for the child. You can tell that it really cuts deep.”
7. Enjoy dinner at a French restaurant
If you enroll your child in a specialized program such as French immersion, demonstrate the benefits by ordering coq au vin. Jennifer Lacey, a mother of two teens and a French immersion teacher in St. Paul, Minnesota, encourages parents to make French “real” by subscribing to a French magazine, finding a French pen pal or taking a trip to Quebec. Supporting your children’s interests might inspire them to greatness, so by all means take your little drama queen to see live theatre, too.
8. Take action if you suspect a learning disability
If your child has a disability – or if you suspect one – don’t waste time. Learn about your child’s condition, how to support him at home and about available programs, says Szabo. Get and stay connected to be an effective advocate for your child. If you’re on the ball, you may be able to turn the situation around. And as you support your child, ensure that you’re supported, too – consider counselling and parent groups.
9. Encourage her to join the Chess Club
Joining a sports team or the student council can be the antidote to a toxic social situation: kids can meet like-minded kids who might become friends, and they won’t be alone at lunch. “I don’t think anything rips out the heart of a parent more than knowing their child is having friend issues,” says McKay. Whether it’s the rugby team or the Diversity Club, though, getting involved can bolster kids’ self-esteem and make a world of difference to the way they feel about school, and about themselves.
What are your best school survival tips? Have you found anything that helps you and your child get through the year with flying colours?