Is summer getting shorter, or is it just me? June flies into August and as soon as smoke from the Fourth of July fireworks leaves our nostrils, we are back at Staples tossing binders and pencil cases into our carts. Here we are again.
Each new school year brings a wide range of emotions. We are hopeful that this year, our daughter will meet classmates who won’t make fun of her. Our son will do better in math. Our teenager will make the varsity soccer team. We are hopeful, but we are scared. What if this year is worse than last year? Some of us march into September holding our breath. But we don’t need to. There are a few things we can do to help get the year moving in the right direction for ourselves and our kids.
Be Proactive, Not Fearful
First, we can decide to parent proactively, not fearfully. So many decisions we make for our kids stem from fear rather than strength. We manipulate schedules to make sure our daughter has the “right” first grade teacher, scared that if she gets the “wrong” one, her year will be miserable. Who says? We make our 16-year-old hit the gym every morning in the summer so that he’ll have a leg up when he tries out for varsity soccer. We can’t see him get cut from the team again.
I suggest that rather than push and prod our young ones into places we feel they should be, we give them breathing room. We mustn’t be afraid for our kids, that they’ll get the wrong teacher or not make the team. Some of these are important life-defining moments. More importantly, we must teach them that they are tough enough to handle what life gives them.
Help Them Develop a Positive Attitude
Second, we can help them develop a positive attitude toward school. If your son loves language but hates science, go to the library and get him a Spanish version of a book series he enjoys, and ask him questions about it. Read books together and casually chat about them. If your daughter hates sports but likes math, ask her if she would like to be in a math club or start one. Don’t make her play basketball, but ask her to go on walks or bike rides in the evenings with you. In other words, be enthusiastic about her strengths and downplay the things that bore her. When parents playfully (not competitively) invest themselves in their child’s interests, kids respond.
Put Them to Sleep
Finally, nothing helps foster a positive attitude more than adequate rest. Like clockwork, parents haul exhausted first graders and teens into my office starting in November. Many worry about leukemia, brain tumors or mono. These maladies are far rarer than simple lack of sleep. Don’t let this happen to your child. Before school starts, rein in bedtime and help his body establish a healthy sleep rhythm. Healthy hormone regulation depends on adequate sleep. Most kids fight sleep, so you need to help.
Great education begins at home. Kids adopt attitudes from their loved ones—especially parents. If we talk to them as though they can handle the curveballs that life brings, live with positive, grateful attitudes, and establish calm routines at home, life goes well. These are small changes for us, but they bring enormous changes in our kids.
Pediatrician, wife, mother and best-selling author of six books, Dr. Meg Meeker is one of the country’s leading experts on parenting, teens and children’s health.