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Seven tips for a successful (and less stressful) school year

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  October 11, 2013 05:32 AM

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Thumbnail image for school line.jpgEven though our family has done back-to-school 18 times now (more if you count preschool), it is always discombobulating. As exciting as it is, getting back into the school routine can be overwhelming and stressful.

The advantage of doing it so many times, though, is that you get to try out lots of different ideas and approaches--which is what we've done, on purpose and by accident. Some have worked out really well, and some have failed miserably. Here are 7 pieces of advice I give parents based on our experience, in the hope of helping them have a smooth start to the year--and letting them learn from our mistakes.

Plan ahead. The big calendar on our kitchen bulletin board is crucial for all of us. Everything goes on the calendar, from swim practice to meetings and conferences to birthdays and playdates. This year I got the 2014 calendar early and put everything I already know about 2014 on there--and have already found some conflicts that will involve advanced planning. Having everything written down and in a central and public place has made a huge difference.

Get into a check-in routine. For younger kids, that's usually a backpack check--for older kids, it might be a verbal check-in, or a check of their planner or wherever they write what they have to do for homework. It's good to look for forms that need signing and other random paperwork. Don't do this right before bedtime--that's a bummer time to discover that there is something due the next morning. If you anchor it to a particular moment (like right after school or as you clean up from dinner) you are more likely to remember.

Make a homework place. This sounds really obvious, but too often it's not. These days I feel like I am always plucking my middle-schooler off the couch (near the TV and toys and her little brother) and telling her to do her homework somewhere else. In our house, it's either the kitchen table (which requires that my husband and I commit to keeping it cleared and clean) or at a desk. Theoretically, the homework place should be quiet but not so distant you can't keep an eye on your student--and well lit and well-supplied.

Be in touch with the teacher and school. Not necessarily all the time or over every last thing--a little bit of faith and benefit of the doubt are important. But go to back-to-school night, introduce yourself, set up channels of communication in the way that the teacher requests, and be proactive when you see a problem. A good working relationship with your child's teacher can go a long way.

Schedule downtime. We all need time to relax and decompress, and kids are no different. So don't overschedule. Make sure that there is some time that isn't filled with homework, sports or activities. This is more important than most parents realize. Think of it as an investment in your child's mental health and overall success, because it is.

Set priorities. This is important to do ahead of time, especially if you are going to schedule downtime. Yes, you want your child to make the elite soccer team and get really good at piano. But not at the expense of homework or sleep--or fun, or family time. This is another one that sounds obvious, but it's good to go through the exercise of defining the pecking order of activities and scheduling (or not scheduling) accordingly. There are only so many hours in a day, sadly. Which is why it's important to...

Keep perspective. Kids need to be kids. It's important to be your child's helper and champion--but it's also important not to get swept up in the achievement culture. Things have a way of working out in the long run--life is full of chances. Remember to enjoy each day, and enjoy your child; not only will you all be happier if you do, you'll teach your child an important lesson about how to be happy.

Which is one of the best lessons anyone could learn.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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