Every year as we get ready to send our daughters back to school, my wife and I get nervous. So I decided to research what the best back to school tips for parents were.
Here’s what we learned:
Back to school time means uncertainty, anxiety, and stress for many parents and students alike. Minimize this by:
- Ensure they get enough sleep
- Make sure they get a healthy breakfast every day and drink plenty of water
- Let them to experience disappointment and don’t feel you have to fight every battle
- Have daily check-ins with them and ask specific questions about their school-day
- Know the difference between normal pre-teen and teen moodiness and true warning signs
- Set age-appropriate limits on technology
- Don’t over-schedule afterschool activities
Even the most confident parents sometimes run out of ideas for how to help our kids.
Back to school time is stressful! It’s new and different.
Things change. Our kids are changing. In some ways, it’s like starting all over again. It challenges everyone in the whole family!
So, many of us are desperate for back to school tips for parents!
The right tips and preparation can take your back to school time from disaster to delightful; or at least not terrible.
So in this post, we’re walking through the best back to school tips for parents we parents need to know.
But we’re also going to identify and talk through the most common challenges you’re likely to face and the best ways to meet that head-on. Best semester yet? Let’s see if we can’t make that happen!
How do I prepare my child for back to school?
Kids are always a lot smarter than we parents often give them credit for.
Have a frank discussion with them both leading into school and once it starts. I know it can be very hard to get kids to talk about their day. But they will talk if we ask the right questions.
Instead of just asking “how was school today?” try asking more specific questions like:
- What was the best part of your day today?
- Tell me about the biggest challenge you had today?
- Who did you play with at recess?
- What do you like best about your teacher?
- What’s the one thing you wish you could change about this school year?
The more specific the question and the more situational the question the better an answer you’ll get. I also think it’s important that we be realistic with kids.
Ask these questions every day. Even if you get the same answer. It shows your child you care. But it also will be readily obvious to you when something changes, as their answers will shift in new directions.
I think anytime a child enters a new school or grade we have to be prepared for things not going as planned.
Even if your child isn’t changing schools, they may still face:
- A new teacher
- New friends
- Old friends being in a different class
- Social pressures and changing trends with kids
- More challenging work and homework
So, it’s crucial that we don’t take for granted that the coming year will be all roses like last year was.
As with anything with kids, be honest. Be raw. Genuine. Don’t assume they’ll be fine and don’t assume they don’t understand.
Are you ready for Back to School?
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How can I help my child in middle school?
My oldest daughter Astrid is usually my happy-go-lucky overachiever.
She’s always made friends easily. She has always excelled in school and is usually the life of the party.
By sharp contrast, my youngest daughter Jolie is more like me.
She’s shy, withdrawn, quiet and observant. She too excels in school, but she’s a little moodier and has a harder time making friends.
This year, however, as Astrid enters 6th grade and Jolie 5th grade, my wife and I are experiencing something we haven’t faced before; back to school concerns about Astrid!
Astrid is getting older. She’s realizing this is her first year in middle school; it’s all going to be new.
While she’s excited about the future and getting older, I also think the realization is hitting that things are about to change significantly.
Of course, at age 11 1/2, she’s also experiencing hormonal changes too.
According to the CDC, by the time kids are 12, “Most boys grow facial and pubic hair and their voices deepen. Most girls grow pubic hair and breasts, and start their period.”
The CDC goes on to note the following regarding pre-teens:
- Show more concern about body image; looks, and clothes
- Focus on themselves; going back and forth between high expectations and lack of confidence
- Experience more moodiness
- Express less affection toward parents; sometimes might seem rude or short-tempered
- Feel stress from more challenging school work
- Develop eating problems
- Feel a lot of sadness or depression (which can lead to poor grades at school, alcohol or drug use, unsafe sex, and other problems)
Luckily my wife and I still have a little bit of time before problem-solving all of those potential back to school concerns.
However, we are definitely seeing moodiness, short-tempers, and signs of stress. If you think we feel a little desperate for back to school tips for parents, you’d be right!
But if you are facing some self-esteem challenges with your kids, I highly recommend you take a moment and check out one of my most shared posts on Twitter with some solutions.
But 1 of those tips was surprisingly effective! Just click the link to read it on my site.
Top back to school concerns and worries
There may be a year where they don’t like their teacher.
They could have a year where none of their old friends are in their new class. It might be they don’t click with the kids in their new class. It happens.
All of these, or any one of them, can create friction for us and our kids at back to school time.
I don’t know about you, but as an adult, I have had bosses and co-workers I didn’t like or click with. As much as we might want to run to the Principal and insist on a change, we have to consider that a big reason they are in school is to prepare them for life.
There’s a big difference between a teacher they have a personality clash with and a bad teacher.
If you’re faced with that, do your best to ascertain which it is and act accordingly.
But don’t be afraid to let your kid learn how to be resilient and work through challenges. They’ll be that much more prepared when real life hits.
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Why is my child acting out in school?
Another commonly sought after back to school tips for parents are around unmotivated children or bad behaving kids.
We’re all troubled when we see our child under-performing or acting out. Some parents are quick to blame the child and some are quick to blame the teacher.
In reality, it’s rarely quite so simple an explanation.
Each of us who gets a report from school that our kid is a troublemaker get anxious. We know that kids who get labeled like that sometimes get stuck in that pattern.
Overworked and underpaid teachers, desperate for solutions, tend to just label the kids and they don’t have the resources to really dig into the issues.
So we, as the parent, have to lovingly, but firmly and consistently dig into the issue and get to the real root of the problem.
Your child could be unmotivated or acting out because they aren’t being challenged enough.
If there’s friction in your house or if you and your spouse are divorced or separated, you can almost assuredly bet that’s the underlying issue.
Or maybe they have an undiagnosed learning disability or a challenge like dyslexia that you don’t know about.
Kids can’t always tell you they are dyslexic as they have been seeing things that way their whole life and simply don’t know any different.
What is social emotional learning in schools?
We also have big challenges in a lot of our public schools with how kids are taught.
In the US at least, our system of public school funding is based in large part on standardized test scores.
So, schools, desperate for money, are putting a bigger and bigger emphasis on standardized tests. They have to just to stay financially afloat.
Thankfully, more and more of our schools are introducing Social Emotional Learning programs into the districts.
SEL, as its commonly called, teaches kids how to self-regulate and empathize with others. It can be life-changing for many.
It also allows for a great deal of variation in how the curriculum gets taught rather than by expecting all students to perform under a very narrow set of guidelines and expectations.
Want to dig in further into SEL? Check out one of my most popular parenting posts called Social Emotional Learning Games (just click to read on my site).
Does diet affect children’s behavior at school?
Yes is the short answer.
Eating healthy. It’s an over-used and confusing phrase. It’s also one whose definition changes by the season.
Eat carbs and not fats. No, don’t eat carbs only protein. Use butter & avoid trans fats. Avoid dairy and the list goes on and on.
Even coming as I did from working as a leader for Whole Foods Market for over 20 years, I still don’t always have the answers and I’ve seen the answers change many times over the years.
But, it should come as no surprise to you that sending your child off to school to succeed won’t likely happen with a poor diet.
If you’re about to race a car in a NASCAR race would you fill the tank with poor quality gasoline?
Filling up your kids with quality food and plenty of water ensures they have the brain power and energy to get through the day and perform their best.
Make sure your kids get a good breakfast. And make sure they eat a nutritious lunch. I’m not talking kale salad and baked beet fries.
But I am suggesting to limit or eliminate the following:
- Artificial colors and flavors (proven to impact ADHD)
- Items heavy in sugar
- Items that are mostly fried
I’m not trying to rob all the fun out of food and I’m not saying they can’t ever eat those things.
But kids who mostly eat those things will almost never be as healthy, happy and successful as they could be.
I go much more in-depth into this topic in a very successful previous post called Healthy Eating Habits for Children (just click the link to read my post).
In that article, I break down just how simple and affordable it can be to get your kids to eat a little healthier, including some surprisingly healthy foods I know your kids will love.
So what are my . . .
9 Crucial Back to School Tips for Parents You Need to Know?
1. LET THEM EXPERIENCE SOME DISAPPOINTMENTS
Almost all kids will start to worry as the new year approaches.
Who will be their new teacher? What will they be like? Will any of their old friends be in their new class? What if no one likes me?
All those thoughts and more may go through your child’s head.
And some of those things could happen. We have to be realistic. And, more importantly, we have to balance wanting to protect them and fight their battles.
Let them experience disappointment and understanding that we don’t always get what we want.
2. BULLYING TIPS (being the receiver or the giver)
Bullying has grown to be one of the most sought-after back to school tips for parents, compared with when I was a kid.
And on one hand, my being called “Campbell Soup” endlessly and pushed around a little by jocks probably toughened me up and prepared me for the real world.
But we also didn’t have social media. Pictures of me changing in the boy’s locker room didn’t end up on someone’s Instagram account.
So, in the day and age where someone can be shamed or ridiculed by dozens or hundreds within minutes on social media, we have to recognize that bullying today is very different.
As kids age, and especially in response to stress, changes at home, hormones and a whole host of other disrupters, even the sweetest kid may engage in bullying behavior.
And even the most confident kid might find themselves bullied.
If you are getting reports from your teacher that your child is being bullied but especially if they are bullying, we have to take it seriously, dig in deep and not be afraid to do some radical redirection.
3. DON’T KEEP UP WITH THE JONES
My daughters constantly tell me which of their friends have an iPhone, fidget spinners (that’s so 2017) or other cool gadgets we don’t let them have.
Or they long for social media accounts which we also don’t let them have. You know what? I don’t care.
I don’t care what their friend’s parents do or don’t let them have.
My wife and I parent as we think best. We’re open to discussion and open to new information, but we don’t make parenting decisions based on what other parents (especially ones we’ve never met) do.
Want my back to school tips for parents in this category?
Do what you think is right. Explain your reasons clearly and don’t worry about someone else doing it differently.
4. TIPS FOR CHANGES IN MOOD OR ATTITUDE
Changes in mood or attitude can potentially be a huge red flag in your back to school concerns.
It might also be nothing or a passing phase. The only way to know is to dig deep with your kids; even when they don’t want you to.
I’m not talking about invading their space or privacy.
But if you see something, say something. If need be, repeat it. They may shut down or push back. And by all means, if they just need a moment to process a challenging situation, give them that time.
But let them know you’re going to circle back with them about it. It might frustrate them, but they’ll never doubt your love and care even if they can’t return it in the moment.
5. DON’T OVER-SCHEDULE AFTERSCHOOL ACTIVITIES
One of the more benign of the back to school concerns is adjusting to everyone’s new schedules.
This will be even truer if your kids are no longer all in the same school; something we’ll be facing next year as Astrid enters 7th grade.
Busses, pick up lanes, traffic, conflicting drop off or pick up times are enough to drive even the most organized Mom or Dad crazy.
I don’t have an easy solution here other than don’t overschedule.
I see some kids in my day job helping run a martial arts school who have 1 or 2 different after-school activities every day.
Don’t be afraid to just let the kids go outside and play after school. They don’t need French horn lessons, ballet, archery, parkour and acting lessons all in an afternoon.
And you need to be more parent than chauffer.
Pick 1 or 2 activities and be realistic. I’m obviously partial to martial arts and if you need help understanding how to tell the good from the bad or the ugly, check out one of my newest posts about how to How to Choose a Martial Arts School for Your Child (click to read on my site).
I even give you a free cheat sheet of what questions to ask different schools, and what to look for, including the huge red flags!
6. HOMEWORK CHALLENGES
This year, for the first time, both of my older girls are in the S.T.E.A.M.
Program (formerly called STEM). It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math. It’s a much more hands-on learning environment and one which supposedly doesn’t have homework other than reading.
I’m excited to see how this year unfolds as both my wife (a teacher) and I are fairly opposed to homework.
Think of it from the standpoint of your job.
Now I know some of you are work-a-holics, but what if your employer gave you work you had to take home and do every night off the clock after you’ve just spent all day there?
OK, now you’re starting to see my point. Tying in with my points on after-school activities, let kids be kids.
Let them play outside or ride bikes with their friends to the park.
They don’t need to be spending 3 hours on homework following an 8 hour day at school. If the school, teacher & curriculum is good and the child has the right environment at home, they don’t need homework to learn.
If your school is one that just crams down homework nightly and is only focused on standardized test scores and getting as much tax dollars as they can to the detriment of the kids, look for private school options (many offer scholarships).
But most cities also have free public charter schools which could be a great alternative too.
7. LOOK FOR PEER PRESSURE WARNING SIGNS
As kids get older, they will naturally face more and more back to school concerns about what other kids are doing, wearing, saying, listening to, etc.
Some of this may be fine and some of what they will be exposed to won’t be fine.
You have to be the parent.
You have to set guidelines, structure, and boundaries. Kids don’t always like those at the moment, but guess what?
Your job is to love them, protect them and to prepare them for life, not to have them like everything you say and do.
Watch their friends. See and meet who they hang out with.
Meet their parents and don’t be afraid to draw the line. Being the parent even when it makes you unpopular is one of the most important back to school tips for parents.
8. AVOID TOO MUCH TECHNOLOGY
My daughter Astrid told me that last year their art teacher showed them how to make pottery by using an iPad app.
When I heard that I was furious! It wasn’t a surprise and I had actually complained about their art teacher once previously.
I don’t know about you, but art class should instruct kids about art and artists and teach them how to make art. It should inspire them!
Instead, they typically came away from that class bored and unmotivated. Luckily this year we have a new art teacher.
Hopefully, one who won’t be teaching pottery on a tablet.
On the flipside, kids do need to have a basic understanding of technology. We live in a tech-centered world and like it or not, that isn’t going away. So finding balance in this area is crucial.
But when they’re home, most kids these days would just spend hours on their phones, tablets, or video games. So it’s crucial that you set boundaries, guidelines, and limits; no matter how much they whine.
If you aren’t sure why that’s necessary, check out this article I wrote about how technology affects the brain negatively.
I couldn’t believe some of the statistics I found about how too much tech time can lead to anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts!
9. SAFETY TIPS
All of us want our kids to be safe.
And by dropping them off for 8 hours somewhere where we aren’t, we are taking a huge leap of faith in leaving their safety to others.
As with a lot of parenting, we have to balance between protecting our kids and letting them live so that they are learning the lessons they need to learn to succeed in life.
Learning to balance that is one of the best back to school tips for parents.
Teach your kids about stranger danger at a young age. Tell them what to do if approached. Don’t make them paranoid, but don’t raise them to be victims either.
If your kids ride the bus home and especially if they are latch-key kids (kids whose parents are not at home when they get home from school) teach them to be safe.
Ideally, have them travel in pairs or groups. Coordinate with other parents.
You can take things one step further by searching online databases to be sure you don’t have any sexual predators in your neighborhood.
Again, we don’t want our kids paranoid or scared of everything, but we don’t want them unprepared.
Did I cover the back to school tips for parents you were looking for?
In this post, we took a crucial look at how to prepare your child for back to school success.
As our kids get older, the challenges they face increase. Thus finding the best back to school tips for parents can mean the difference between a great school year and a terrible one.
So we presented the very best tips, advice and actionable steps you can take to make sure your child has a GREAT school year!
What is your biggest back to school concern?
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