Tips for keeping kids – and parents – on track this school year

(BPT) – – You’ve stocked up on school supplies and healthy after-school snacks, and you’re prepared to limit your child’s non-school screen time. Like many parents, you’re now wondering if there’s more you can do to help your kids succeed this year at school. There is, and it’s not too difficult with a little planning.

First, help your kids stay organized. Talk to your kids about how they’ll stay on top of assignments, and let them know that you’re going to check in to make sure things aren’t slipping through the cracks. As soon as a project is assigned – like that paper due next Friday – help your child develop a timeline for completing it to avoid last-minute agony. Many schools have websites where assignments are posted. Be sure to ask your child’s teacher.

“Some students are natural self starters and organizers, while others need your help creating a system to stay on track,” says Dr. Stuart Lustig, a child psychiatrist and medical director for Cigna’s behavioral health business. This could be a calendar in their school binder or a checklist. Following up is important, Lustig says. “Some kids need their parents to check their progress.”

Lustig suggests scheduling a time when your student will do homework. “Most kids need a one- or two-hour cool-down period after school, but don’t let them postpone homework until late at night,” Lustig says. If your household has two parents, determine which parent will help with which subjects, and build that “help time” into your schedule.

If you think your child might have difficulty with certain subjects, line up tutors early in the school year so your child can start off strong. “Don’t wait for a bad report card and feelings of failure before getting help for your child,” Lustig says.

Every child needs balance, so consider what non-school activities your child might want to pursue. “Don’t over schedule, but don’t let your student get away with doing nothing. Give them options,” Lustig advises.

Does your child have difficulty making friends? Particularly in the younger grades, talk to teachers a few weeks after school starts for hints about who might be suitable playmates for your child. Contact the parents and get to know them. Suggest a family outing, or a fathers-and-sons or mothers-and-daughters play date.

Remember, not all other students will become friends with your child, and not every child will even like your child – that’s not realistic; but be aware of potential bullying. Find out early in the year how your child’s school addresses bullying, and which adults your child can turn to for help. “Although everyone needs to learn how to cope with difficult people and bad situations, no child should ever be bullied,” Lustig says. Start a conversation with your child today about bullying.

Lastly, if you think your child might need mental health services, schedule an appointment now for an evaluation. Schedules for child psychologists and child psychiatrists fill up fast, so it’s better to schedule an appointment before the need becomes urgent.

For the parents: Being the mom or dad of a student of any age can be stressful, so be sure to take care of yourself, Lustig advises. Many employers offer an employee assistance program (EAP), often through their health plan, which can provide short-term counseling for stress, depression or anxiety. An EAP counselor can also help you find child care, elder care and other services that can improve your work/life balance. These services are free to the employee and they’re completely confidential.

“If your employer offers an EAP, use it! It’s there to help you,” Lustig says.

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