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Sheree Gallagher, Psy.D.
Michael Bridgewater, Ph.D.
Swen Helge, PhD (1975-2010)
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EVERY CHILD IS IMPORTANT, ESPECIALLY YOURS

With the beginning of a new school year, the first issue of our newsletter will focus upon setting a solid foundation for a productive start to school.

The beginning of school is an exciting time for students, parents, and teachers.  It is full of expectations and new beginnings.  For some, however, it can be a time of uncertainty and fear.

If you notice a change in your child's behavior or feelings, make a point to talk to them about it.  The change could be due to factors, such as fear of changing to a new school, uncertainty about new or more challenging classes, or returning to an environment where they feel different or ineffective.  By asking about their hesitancies you can more accurately identify the problem and begin to find a solution.  You may be able to solve the problem together.  What an effective way of modeling problem-solving with your child.  If the problem is difficult to resolve, you and your child may need assistance (another way of demonstrating to your child how to problem-solve).

For academic problems, you could contact the school diagnostician for an assessment for learning disabilities or the need for resources services.  You could find a private source for learning disability assessments.  You may need to interview and select a tutor for a specific subject.  Most schools keep a list of reliable and affordable tutors.

If the problem is inattention or poor focus, you may need to seek assistance to determine if the reason for the inattention is due to a change with the new school year, a lack of effective structure at home or in the classroom, feelings of anxiety or depression, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  You could request an evaluation through the school or seek a private evaluation.  Whichever you choose, make sure all potential factors that could be contributing to the symptoms are addressed before a formal diagnosis is rendered.

PARENT TALK

With the new school year just beginning, now is the time to implement effective study skills.  Let's focus on homework, since that is the most likely time you would be with your child during his/her studies.  A set routine each day after school will provide an optimal opportunity to complete homework.  Create a routine that fits your family's schedule.

Here is an example for a child who arrives home after school.  Arrive home from school.  Have a set place for the backpack to go, such as a hook hanging next to the back door.  Designate a set area for homework to be completed, such as the kitchen table or a desk in the study or a child's bedroom.  Homework is completed immediately upon the arrival home.  A small snack can accompany the homework.  Make sure the television is off.  Television, telephone, and other extracurricular activities are privileges earned after the homework is completed.

For elementary school children, you will need to sit with them or be in close proximity while they are completing their homework in order to assist in maintaining their focus, assist in reading instructions, and check for thorough and accurate completion of the assignments.  Homework at the elementary school age will normally be 20 to 30 minutes for Kindergarten through 3rd grades.  It can increase to an hour or more for 4th through 6th grades.  After that time, allow your child to engage in a fun, active activity as a reward for completing their homework.  If you think the homework is taking an excessive amount of time to complete, contact your child's teacher(s) to determine their estimate of time it should take each night.

For middle school and high school students, check in on them periodically to determine if they have questions and are working without significant disruption.  Homework at this level may take several hours.  Ten to 15 minute breaks should be allowed as long as they are progressing at a good pace to completion.  Again, if the amount of time it is taking to complete homework each night appears excessive, contact the teachers to determine their estimate of time each assignment should take.  Your child may need additional assistance if they are having difficulty with the concepts or assignments.

For children who are attending an after school program, make sure there is quite, structured, and monitored time to complete the homework prior to being picked up by the parents.  Depending upon the length of time your child attends the aftercare program each day, all homework could be completed before returning home.  However, once home, it is always a good idea to review their work for accuracy and thoroughness.

COMMUNICATION TIP

Talking to your child about their day at school is an important way to be involved in his/her life.  As children enter school, the parents' influence becomes less paramount and can be overshadowed by the influence of their peers.  Therefore, as a parent, it would benefit you to know who they are talking to, what they are doing, and what they are learning in their classes.

If you pick up your child from school or an aftercare program, this provides the best opportunity to talk with them.  In the car, they are a captive audience.  Turn the radio down or off, turn off the DVD player, remove the ear buds, and stop texting.  Ask how their day went.  Follow-up on something you knew was happening at school, such as a spelling test, history quiz, or special class event.  Ask about their favorite part of the day.  Ask what went wrong if they appear sad, quiet, or angry.  It is amazing what people will tell you (even your own kids) if you just ask.  Beginning this routine in pre-K or kindergarten lays a foundational routine that when your child gets in the care with you after school he/she talks about his/her day.  If your child is past that level, the new school year is a great reason to being this new routine.

Another place to talk about the school day is over the dinner table.  Again, turn off the television and get out of the living room.  This conversation includes everyone at the table.  It is most effective when one or both parents are present.  If a child sees the parent(s) talking about their day, they will talk about their day as well.  Great ideas, plans, and solutions can occur while you are passing the potatoes (or chicken nuggets).  If life is too busy with everyone going different places during the evening, try sitting down for a quick breakfast and discuss the events expected for the day, then make sure to follow-up sometime that evening.

A third option is to talk before bed.  This time is particularly effective with younger children.  The bedtime routine can include time sitting by the bed talking about the day that is ending and expectations for the new one to occur.  This dark, quiet time frequently elicits thoughtful comments by little ones.

Optimally, all three of these times for communication with your child are being utilized every day.  It takes time and effort, but the relationship rewards now and in the future will be well worth the investment.

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