Help Your Kids Have the Best School Year Ever

Beware your tendency to overschedule these young ones — and other can't-miss tips for parents

by Meg Meeker, MD | Updated 28 Aug 2017 at 9:52 AM

Every school year brings a sense of hope for children and parents. We hope that this year will be better than last. The caddy girls will be gone. Our struggling child will finally get math. Or English will finally click for another.

And this year, the teacher will be stronger and kinder.

The enthusiasm parents and kids have in September can quickly vanish, however, if we don't do a few things to ensure that this year really can be better for our kids. There is a lot at school that parents can't control, but there are some things that we can do to make school a much better experience for our kids.

1.) Do not overschedule them. Before your child starts back at school, take charge of his schedule and avoid the temptation to let him get overscheduled. This means that he must be able to get to bed by 10:00 (yes, even if he's in high school), have periodic downtime throughout the week, and have free time on weekends.

My rule of thumb for middle school through high school is this: one extracurricular activity per semester. Period. I know this sounds too constricting, but kids who have no margin factored into their weeks burn out, become anxious, exhausted and just plain miserable. I can't tell you how many times parents ask me to run tests on their children for fatigue only to find out the real reason their kids are exhausted — they are way too busy.

2.) Let your child take new risks. If your child has never played the trumpet, tried out for a play or taken a foreign language but has always wanted to, encourage her to try it. If your children are worried they'll be terrible at it, all the better. Help your child take some risks and not worry about failing. Learning to try something for the sake of adventure or fun is a great lesson for kids.

Far too many kids fear trying something new because they don't want to disappoint their parents or feel like failures. If you find your child resisting AP English because she'll get a C, encourage her to go for it. Learning to work hard and struggle at something she is afraid of is a great life lesson. She'll find out that working hard and getting a C is really OK (as long as you are OK with it.) She'll get to the college she's meant to go to regardless.

3.) Insist on family time during the week. Many parents lose their kids to activities when school starts up, and the relaxing family time they had during the summer comes to a screeching halt. Don't let this happen. Your kids love and need time with you and their siblings because home is their anchor.

Related: Dads, Step into Your Hero Role — Kids Need It

They won't tell you and may even resist your making them have family dinners on Saturday nights, but get tough. When they are in college and grown, they will be so very grateful that you made family, not activities, a priority.

4.) Help them develop a clear rhythm to their days. Parents forget that routine is very important to kids of all ages. If a child has breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime at the same time each day, he feels more rested and less anxious. Most kids sleep better and feel less stressed when they (and their bodies) can anticipate what's next. Children who have days that change mealtimes, downtime, and exercise time frequently sleep less well, and their appetites can suffer.

Related: Three Secrets of Raising Emotionally Healthy Kids

If your child has ADHD, routine and rhythm are even more important because his mind and body feel that they're racing all the time.

5.) Establish good sleep hygiene right away. We all fall into bad habits during the summer when it comes to sleeping, so help your kids get back on track by establishing some healthy sleep habits.

These include: no screen time 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime, a 15-minute wind-down routine such as reading, bathing, listening to books on tape or relaxing music, no electronics in the bedroom (this means no phone, television, IPad or laptop) — and no vigorous exercise 60 minutes before bed.

Related: Kids' Bedtime Struggles Solved

I realize these can be hard to implement with teens, and this is why you, not they, need to take charge of their schedules. Kids are notorious for taking on too much.

Many of us feel that we really can't do much to help our kids enjoy school more, but this isn't true.

So this fall, give these a try and see how much better your child's attitude toward life and school will be.

Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the new book "Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need" (Regnery Publishing, May 2017), as well as a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.

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