The start of the school year can be difficult for kids and parents alike. But science says that several strategies can make that transition easier.
Here are 7 things that have been proven to help your child start the school year right.
1) Spend time together
In these fast-paced times, it can be difficult to find the time to spend with your kids and family. If you’re like most parents, you always seem to be running after time. But here’s the thing: all available studies on parent-child relationships highlight the importance of creating strong bonds in childhood, which translates into spending time with your child. Science says that one of the most effective ways of putting your child on track to academic and social success is to get involved in his/her life. The good news is that it’s possible to spend quality time with your kid, no matter how busy you are.
How to spend more quality time with your kid
While we’d all time to spend more time with our kids, science says quality trumps quantity every time. That means you need to focus on how you’re spending that time together rather than on how much time you’re spending together. Even when you have no time, you can still find easy ways to spend time with your kid. For instance, you can make up stories, tell them about your day, talk about books your reading, tell them what made you happy or sad, and then ask them about the same things.
Grab little pieces of time to connect. Talk to your kids as you’re waiting in a queue. Talk to them about their environment and explain political events while you’re in the car. Let them tag along when you go shopping so that you get a chance to hang out together. Participate in some of their activities and ask them to participate in yours.
Morning or evening routines can also be a great way to connect with your kid. Routines work because they ensure you spend a specific period of time with your child. Remember that keeping routines “short and sweet” will make it easier for you stick to them.
Get specific. Life is governed by habits. Everything we do, or fail to do, comes down to habits. You won’t start spending more time with your kids by saying “I want to spend more time with the kids.” You start spending more times with them by getting specific. “Every night, I will spend 5 minutes with each kid before they sleep.”
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2) Work on strengthening your child’s emotional intelligence
Did you know that your child’s emotional intelligence determines how well he fits in in school? Science says that your child’s emotion regulation skills lie at the center of his social, psychological and academic outcomes. These skills determine your child’s school readiness. More and more researchers are saying that children’s social-emotional development has a great impact on their academic performance over time, their attitudes and behaviors, and even their physical and emotional outcomes.
Gottman’s studies on emotional intelligence have shown that kids taught about emotions are better able to adopt strategies to eliminate disturbing stimuli. For example, emotionally intelligent kids are more likely to know when to walk away from unpleasant situations, or the activities to engage in to calm their angry feelings.
Adele Diamond, who has largely focused on children’s self-regulation skills, says that a child who has developed these skills is ready to make an easy and successful transition into school. A school-ready child is:
- More likely to build positive social interactions and to live “peacefully” with those around him
- More likely to make and keep friends and to cooperate with others
- More likely to display traits such as empathy
- More likely to recognize his own emotions and those of the people around him
- More likely to respond to difficult emotions appropriately
- Less likely to have meltdowns and tantrums (or more likely to have fewer and “less dramatic” meltdowns and tantrums) More capable of expressing difficult emotions appropriately
- More capable of controlling his or her impulses
- More likely to deal with frustration appropriately. For instance, he is able to ask for help when met with obstacles (in reading and writing for example)
How to strengthen your child’s emotional intelligence skills
Your child’s ability to recognize her emotions is directly linked to her self-regulation skills. The most effective way to strengthen your child’s emotion regulation skills is to teach him to identify emotions – his own emotions and the emotions of those around him.
Remember that there are simple age-appropriate strategies you can put into place starting today. Taking advantage of the programs he watches or the books he’s reading to talk about the emotions displayed is a great way to get the conversation about emotions going. For instance, saying something like “I wonder why he looks so sad” can be an easy way to start the conversation on emotions.
Encouraging your child to express himself out loud can make it easier for him to talk about his feelings. Games are a great way to get the conversation around emotions going.
Fostering your child’s emotional intelligence skills starts with you. How you react to your emotions teaches him how to react to his. This means that letting you child see that you too have difficult emotions – that emotions are normal – and more importantly, showing him how you handle those difficult emotions gives him important tools he can use to handle his own emotions.
3) Focus on how you communicate
How you communicate with your child determines the bonds you create in childhood and beyond. Developing positive parent/child communication patterns has multiple benefits:
It encourages the creation of close bonds which are more likely to last through the childhood years and beyond.
Positive communication helps you understand what’s going on in your child’s mind.
It helps your child understand the boundaries he/she is expected to respect.
Maintaining open communication channels signals to your child that you are available when he/she needs you.
How to communicate with your child
Asking the right questions every day can help you connect with your child and find out how she’s doing. The right questions can also help you teach your child about emotions. Instead of asking how her day was, try open questions such as:
- Tell me about something that made you mad today…
- What was your favorite part of the day?
- What made you laugh today?
- What made you smile today?
- What made you sad?
- What made you scream (jump, cry…) today?
Listen to the “big things and the little things”. Listening enables you to hear the things that are said out loud and those that are left unspoken. It enables you to know what questions to ask. It gives you an insight into what’s really going on.
Choose the right “when and how”. Not all discussions can take place in the car or over dinner or when everyone is present. Choose the right when and how according to what you need to discuss.
Establish a family tradition. Family traditions can be a great way to encourage bonding between family members. Effective family traditions are those in which each family member can participate. The Book of New Family Traditions has many ideas of traditions to pick from.
4) Be ready to negotiate
Every parent experiences conflict and power struggles. This can be anything to do with homework battles, chores, tidying up, refusal to follow requests and/or instructions, and so on.
Power struggles are especially common when your child starts seeking greater autonomy. Experts say that negotiation can be an effective conflict management tools capable of helping all involved parties “feel heard”. They say that children who feel heard are more likely to behave better and to have more positive social and psychological outcomes.
The first step in effective negotiation is to be clear about your non-negotiables, which makes what you are willing to negotiate clearer for you and your child.
How to make negotiation work
- Clearly define your non-negotiables
- Do not focus on non-issues
- Be aware of your hot buttons
- Be aware of your kid’s hot buttons
- Be sincere
- Listen to identify the real issue
- Remember that your child is growing and his need for autonomy increases with age
- Be firm but receptive
5) Practice growth-mindset parenting
Growth-mindset parenting is about teaching your child that she has the power to change most of the situations in her life. It is about teaching her that achievement requires work, effort and specific strategies and is rarely a question of talent or luck.
Carole Dweck, who is known for the growth mindset concept, suggests that how your child views the events that happen to her determine whether or not she can easily overcome setbacks. A child with a growth mindset believes that she has what it takes to improve, while one with a fixed mindset sees things as fixed and unchangeable.
The good (or bad!) news is that your parenting style can foster the development of a growth mindset mentality. How you respond to your child largely affects her behavior. Dweck argues, for instance, that focusing on your child (you’re so bright”) is counterproductive. What you need to do is focus on her behavior (look how your effort has paid off).
How to encourage a growth mindset in your kid
Using appropriate words to respond to your child’s performance can help instill a growth mindset. For instance, you could say:
- “What do you think you can try next time?”
- “Let’s try something more challenging to work your brain”
- “Let’s try something new”
- “See how your effort has paid off”
6) Help your child strengthen his executive functioning skills
A child with weak executive function skills:
- Has trouble following through and completing instructions
- Has a hard time concentrating and staying focused
- Is disruptive and always seems to be in conflict with others
- Finds it difficult to resist temptations
- Has trouble doing what he is asked to do
- His reactions are often disproportionate to the actual situation. In other words, he will tend to overreact and will generally be unable to deal appropriately with his emotions
- Frequently displays impulsive behavior
The good news is that there are several scientifically proven tactics you can use at home to improve your child’s executive functions.
Tips to boost your child’s executive function skills
Help your child practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is a great activity to help develop children’s executive function abilities because it teaches them to focus. These Montessori-based examples propose age-appropriate mindfulness exercises you can easily adopt at home
Use games and songs. Games that require your child to listen to instructions and follow those instructions are great for developing his attention skills. Some of the games that help do these are musical chairs, Simon Says, and Red light Green light. Board games that help work on your kid’s concentration and require him to think, remember, and strategize are also great for developing his executive functions.
Puzzles, mazes, and card games are great depending on your child’s age. Good examples of board games that help develop your child’s executive functions are: Labyrinth, Looney Labs Aquarius, and Chicken Cha Cha Cha
Sing-along songs also help exercise executive function skills because they encourage your child to listen, memorize or follow instructions (for example head-shoulders-knees-and-toes).
Matching and sorting games that require your child to match or sort different objects also help exercise his executive functions.
Here are other helpful suggestions to improve your child’s focus, working memory and self-control skills
7) Give your child chores
It’s science: assigning chores early has a positive impact on later outcomes. According to Rossman, a professor at the University of Mississippi, including kids in chores is worth the effort: starting chores early is among the greatest predictors of success as an adult. What’s more, encouraging your child to participate in regular, reasonable and age-appropriate chores has been associated with social, emotional and academic benefits. Chores teach kids important skills such as responsibility, self-reliance and accountability.
Children who start doing chores early have better social, academic, and emotional outcomes and turn into more responsible adults, and they can start from as early as age three!
Things to keep in mind
Assigning age-appropriate chores and gradually increasing the level of difficulty can help develop your child’s confidence levels.
Be specific about what you expect. Remember that your idea of “clean your room” is not necessarily your child’s idea of what a clean room is. Does “clean a room” mean putting all the toys in the toy chest? Dusting the shelves? Sweeping the floor? Making the bed?
If your child is resistant to doing things by herself, start slow: ask her to participate, or ask her to start a task and tell her that you’ll help her finish it.
Be willing to let your children decide who does what and when. You can also ask them to come up with a chore wheel that ensures the fair distribution of chores. When kids feel involved in making decisions that concern them, they are more likely to stick to those decisions. An easy and fun way to encourage your child to participate in chores is by determining all the chores they can participate in then using choose chore cards. You can download over 70 age-appropriate chore cards your kids can choose from to encourage them to participate in household chores.