How to Start the School Year Off on the Wrong Foot

Aug 2, 2018 at 11:00 a.m. ET
Girl in Bed ignoring alarm clock
Image: ElisabethSalleeBauer/Antagain/Getty Images. Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows.

Although it may feel like summer just started, the days are already getting shorter — and before you know it, the new school year will be here. Of course, no one wants their child to start of the year on the wrong foot, but there's a chance you're facilitating just that — without even meaning to. Here are common behaviors/allowances/slipups you'll want to avoid now in order to set your kids up for success all school year long.

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Let kids sleep until noon all summer

One of the best parts of summer is being able to relax bedtime routines and forgo an alarm clock. But not getting enough sleep makes it difficult for kids to concentrate in school, especially at the beginning of the year when everything is new and students are receiving a lot of information at once. Eileen Kennedy-Moore, child psychologist and author of the book Growing Friendships: A Kids' Guide to Making and Keeping Friends, says, “No kid wants to hear, ‘Sleep now because you'll be tired later!’ But shifting bedtimes is essential, even if it is challenging. Focus on gradually moving wake-up times earlier so your child doesn't have jet lag on the first day of school.” 

Wait until the last minute to do summer homework

It’s understandable that many kids complain about having to do schoolwork during their off time. But that summer reading and five-page summary will be a lot less stressful if your child completes it in the beginning of August rather than the night before school starts. 

Bad-mouth the teacher

Kennedy-Moore cautions, “Don't say anything negative about the teacher, no matter what you've heard. That sets up bad expectations for how the year will go. Learning to deal with different kinds of bosses is an important life skill.” Keep an open mind and suggest your student do the same — you both may be pleasantly surprised. 

Arrive late to school

Being late to school is a big no-no. It is disrespectful to the teacher and other students. Elementary school teacher Jodi Solomon says, “Children should be on time so that they can begin their day with the rest of the class and not have to play catch-up so early in the day. It embarrasses them that they have to unpack when everyone else is engaged in their work already. Insist children get organized the night before so that mornings are less hectic."  

Be unprepared 

Most schools give a supply list before the start of school. While it may not be necessary to have every single item on the first day, showing up completely unprepared is a mistake. Solomon explains, “We typically go through all the supplies and organize them with the children the first days. If a student does not have any of their supplies, it is annoying to catch them up the following week. Plus they are just sitting at their desk doing nothing and feeling anxious." 

Turn in incomplete paperwork

Solomon says, “The first week is like photocopy heaven. The main office sends home important information, as do the classroom teachers. Parents need to empty the folders and go through each paper. Anything that needs a signature should be signed and returned as soon a possible.” Many schools now handle most of their paperwork online; parents need to be sure to read all emails from the school thoroughly so as not to miss anything. 

Approach the teacher at pickup or drop-off

Teachers do not want to have conversations when you are dropping off your child or at dismissal; they are focusing on getting the students into and out of school safely. Elementary school teacher Jennifer Fotii says, “Even for simple questions, it’s not the right place or time. Parents should call the teacher or, even better, send an email so that the teacher can give their concerns her undivided attention.” Fotii also cautions parents not to ask an overwhelming number of questions right away. She explains, “A lot of information comes home within the first few days of school, and almost everything else is answered on back-to-school night.”  

Ask personal questions at back-to-school night

Speaking of back-to-school night, most schools host these evenings to give parents a broad overview of the grade’s curriculum. It is a chance for parents to inquire about general classwork and expectations. It is not an opportunity to ask about specific questions pertaining to your individual child. If you have a question that does not pertain to the class as a whole, make an appointment with the teacher to talk about your student’s needs. 

Get overly anxious

New beginnings can be tough for everyone. Parents need to set an example for their kids. Kennedy-Moore says, “Don't emphasize how difficult this year will be or how worried you are about how your child will manage. If you're tense and worried about how the school year will go, your child will be too.” Focus on the positives — seeing old friends, making new ones, fun special events that happen in your child’s grade, etc. If you seem excited about the new school year, your child will be too. 

Make too many plans after school

Kennedy-Moore says, “The beginning of a new school year is a big deal for kids. There's a lot of uncertainty: Will my teacher be nice? Will I have a buddy in my new class? Will the work be too hard or too boring?” Better to have time to relax, get organized and eat a leisurely family meal those first few days than to immediately be running around with after-school activities. The same is true for parents. Kids may want to talk about the details of their day or need to run out for additional school supplies, so try to avoid making plans or scheduling mandatory work meetings until your child is settled into their new routine.  

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By avoiding these missteps, parents can help their kids to start the new school year positively. Both your children and your children’s teachers will appreciate your efforts to make it a great school year.  

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