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Jump Start the School Year

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As summer begins to fade, an electrical charge can be felt in the air. The feeling of excitement takes over as the store aisles become overcrowded and the fashion trends begin to show their true colors. What's all the excitement? It's time to go back to school! However, with back-to-school excitement often comes anxiety, fear and worry from both students and their parents. But with a bit of planning, communication and insight, parents can help their children – and themselves – get off to a great start for school this year.

Making Time
Children of all ages can be so active that their schedules can sometimes become over booked. And with school starting, how can a parent make sure that children have time for homework, sports, family and friends without wearing themselves down to utter exhaustion? According to Martha Pieper, a columnist with Chicago Parent Magazine, it's a matter of prioritizing.

"Children need to be able to do the things that interest them the most, but only as time allows," says Pieper. "As parents, we know how important school and homework truly are, but we also need to realize how important sports and friends are to our children. Once a schedule is set for the 'must do' things, allow your child to work with you to fill in the 'want to do' things. This will keep you both happy, but will ensure that your child makes time for the 'musts' first."

According to Pieper, sticking with a schedule is crucial for children doing numerous activities and helps to avoid any unneeded stress or anxiety about "getting it all done." However, there may come a time when the schedule may need to be reexamined and perhaps, even changed.

"Kids are active by nature," says Pieper. "They want to take part in things that are fun, things that their friends do and things that they know will make their parents happy. But to keep track of all these activities – not to mention doing them – can be exhausting for parent and child. Families need to make a schedule and stick to it. Buy a calendar and write on it any and all events on the appropriate date so the entire family knows what to expect. Include practices, games, recitals, conferences, rehearsals, etc., and then stand back with your child and take a look at what you have. Ask your child, 'Is there going to be time for you to do your chores and homework?' 'Will you have time to keep in touch with your friend and your family?' If the child can actually see what their schedule will look like, they may realize that they need to think about all the things they want to do and determine what is most important to them."

Let's Talk
Going hand-in-hand with school is the threat of peer pressure. But talking to your child about peer pressure is not an easy thing to do. There are many parents who believe that if they bring up the subjects of drugs, alcohol, sex, etc., that this will only make the child more curious, leading them right into the behavior.

"The last thing I want to do is to make my child wonder about drugs or alcohol," says Mary Williams, a stay-at-home-mom from Austin, Texas. "Until they are teenagers, I feel that my kids really don't know too much and I don't want to offer them more information than they already have. If they come to me, I'll answer whatever questions they have, but I don't like the idea of initiating the conversation and giving them ideas."

Dr. Paul Coleman, psychologist, says that in reality, exactly the opposite is true. "In order to be the kind of parent that kids will feel free to talk to or ask for advice about any exposure they have had to drugs, alcohol, sex or violence, you must be able to approach your child and discuss your views and thoughts on the subject," he says. "Otherwise, a child may believe that you don't know, you don't want to talk to them about it or you don't care, and they will be afraid of coming to you because they don't know how you will react. Parents must teach appropriate ways that kids can say no to peer pressure, and that can only be done by talking, talking and talking. And after you've talked with them about it, leave the lines of communication wide open so you can talk to them about it again or they can come to you."

Keep It Up
A child's interest and excitement can be overwhelming the first few days of a new school year. It is very common for a child to come home and talk excitedly about his/her new friends, new teacher, new subjects and new interests. But as the days turn into weeks and months, the excitement seems to fade – and may turn into dread. How can a parent keep a child's interest going in school after the "newness" wears off?

It is not always easy to keep children's interests alive and thriving and keep them participating and studying, but according to Pieper, a child's interest may be fading as the parent's does. "Children often take part in activities or programs simply because they are trying to please their parents," says Pieper. "So it is not a surprise that when a parent becomes tired of driving to practices, sitting at games or at recitals, that the child's interest dwindles as well. One of the easiest ways to keep a child's interest and level of participation in any area – whether sports, studying, music or otherwise – is to allow for a break from time to time. Take a weekend off, take a day to do something else, and do it as a family. This allows the child, and the parent, to come back to the activity with a renewed sense of excitement."

"It was as if we were always gone and never had time to do things as a family anymore," says Rexroat. "Between my husband's job, my job, the house, the kids and all the kids' activities and events, we felt as if we were running on empty for a long time. Then, my mother suggested we take a weekend and get away. No practices, no recitals, no rehearsals, no anything except fun and each other. It was amazing how much we looked forward to the next baseball game after we got back. I was once again cheering on the whole team instead of looking at my watch most of the game."

A new school year is coming, and with it, the many wonders of multiple tasks for the entire family. So are you ready? If not, take a little extra time and think about how to make the most of this school year by starting it off right. "It's kind of like starting with a good recipe," says Pieper. "If you know all of the ingredients are good, then the final product has to be just delicious. So make your own recipe this year, and watch how fast everyone eats it up."

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