How to Have a Successful School Year
By Tracey Dowdy
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that success looks different for everybody, especially when it comes to kids and school. I’m one of seven, and my siblings and I have vastly different talents, gifts and abilities. Earning B+ on a spelling test was a mediocre grade for one of my sisters but a reason to go out for ice cream for one of my brothers. That same sister is a single mom to four kids diagnosed with ADHD, so getting everyone dressed, out the door and on the bus wearing pants is a major victory, while my sister-in-law homeschools and loves the way she can ease into the morning with her special-needs son.
At the end of the day, no matter the method or routine, we all want the same thing – to equip our kids for success. Understanding that no matter your definition, starting a new school year and setting goals can be stressful for parents and children alike.
The first step is to set reasonable expectations. Don’t stress about Pinterest-worthy bento box lunches with sandwiches shaped like pandas and carrot sticks carved into tiny bamboo shoots. Send a healthy lunch in packaging your child has the motor skills to open and serve themselves. Or, if your child has ever gone to school without wearing pants – I’m looking at my nephew Tristan here who once put snow pants on over his underwear and didn’t realize his mistake until he got to school and started to hang up his winter gear – then you should probably give them grace on forgetting their lunch. We all want to start the year off strong, but the key is knowing your strengths, playing off them and working on the rest.
Get organized. If your mornings look like the first 20 minutes of Saving Private Ryan without the gunfire, start the night before. Pack and prep lunches, backpacks, uniforms, sports equipment, and all the other paraphernalia that comes with school. Set a routine and post it on the refrigerator if that helps, so kids learn to empty backpacks, lunchboxes and gym clothes when they get home so you aren’t scrambling in the morning. Access your school’s online resources to help keep track of field trips, lunch-money refills, picture day, parent-teacher conferences and other related activities. Give your child age and skill level appropriate tasks to engage them in the process and teach them responsibility.
Don’t rescue them every time. I’m not talking about “I think your son got a concussion in gym class,” but I am referring to the forgotten lunch, gym clothes or homework. Having to eat school lunch, sit out of gym for a period or take a lower grade on an assignment won’t mean they can’t get into a good school but it will mean they’ll be more likely to remember to pack their gym bag or backpack the next time you ask. Remember, you’re not raising kids, you’re raising future adults. As Sharon Martin, speaker, writer, and licensed psychotherapist says, “Success is a process dotted with failures.” It comes from trying, failing, and trying again, but each time learning something. You kids will not become successful by avoiding failure or constantly being rescued but by growing and learning through it.
Finally, set your expectations based on your values. Academics are important indicators of future success and laying a solid foundation in elementary school is critical for finding success in high school and beyond. However, remind your child that their social, physical and emotional health are also essential. Over-scheduling with sports, music lessons and other extra-curricular activities can be incredibly stressful for both of you. And sure, good grades are important but academics are only one indicator of future success. Remind them you’re looking for a sincere effort, steady improvement and a positive attitude. More than an A on a spelling test, those are the real markers for future success.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.