6 Tips to Get Your Kids Focused on the New School Year

by Thomas Armstrong Ph.D.

Photo credit: Sneksy, E+ Collection/Getty Images

Summer vacation is a time when kids can dream, play, scheme, and goof off. School, on the other hand, is a time for hunkering down and focusing. How can parents help their kids get back on track after those blissful weeks of relaxation and recreation? Here are six tips to get you started:

1. Talk about what’s ahead. Have conversations around the dinner table or at other times of the day where you ask your child to reflect on his hopes, fears, goals, and concerns for the coming academic year. Some reflections may revolve around very specific positive goals such as getting good grades, learning a lot about history, or playing sports on the school team. Other thoughts will have a more negative tone, perhaps dealing with anxiety about meeting new people, encountering bullies, or having a teacher who is hard or mean. Regardless of the specific topics discussed, talking about school will stimulate your child to begin focusing his mental energies on the new school year. Make sure to share your own memories about school, even though you may risk being branded as an old fuddy duddy!

2. Visualize it. If your child isn’t the talkative type, another way to provide a channel for ideas, opinions, and feelings about going back to school is to take a small picture of your child’s school and mount it on a large piece of cardboard with a pen or pencil handy. Then tell your child she can write down any words that come to her (at any time during the day) regarding going back to school (you may need to place limits on the specific words she uses!).

3. Turn on a movie. Plan on watching some movies together as a family that focus on school life. There are a wide range of films to consider, depending on your child’s age and maturity level, everything from “Harry Potter” to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to “Clueless,” and my personal favorite, “Election.” Use these family viewing times as opportunities to discuss school-related issues that might come up during or after the show.

4. Make back to school prep feel positive. Create a festive occasion around going to the mall to buy school supplies or school clothes. Work in a special meal, a movie, or some other fun event so that the idea of ‘’back to school’’ is associated with positive feelings. If your child prefers to do his own shopping, suggest he do it with friends, and/or give him money for a meal or film.

5. Practice some stress-relievers. Share stress reduction techniques your child can use in school before tests and other anxiety-producing events. One of the simplest techniques is to take a deep breath, hold it for a count of five, exhale, and then repeat the process two or three more times. Another easy strategy is to make your limbs stiff like a robot for a count of five, then release and relax them like a rag doll. Finally, you might suggest that your child visualize the most positive relaxing scene she can as a way of easing the school jitters.

6. Hash out the homework routine. Take some time to discuss with your child the issue of homework, including establishing a good time of the day to study (some kids are more attentive at the beginning of the day before school, others in the late afternoon, and still others in the evening), a suitable place in the house for doing homework (ideally a place that is free of distractions), and some good ways of maintaining focus while studying (the app the MotivAider delivers random beeps to help your child monitor his own attention).

Some kids look forward to school with joyful anticipation while others feel an encroaching sense of dread. Whatever your child’s attitude toward school, by taking some time to help them sort out their own feelings and prepare for the rigors of the academic world, you’ll be easing them through the transition between the lazy days of summer and the more focused days of the new school year.