By Dr. Jan Hittelman

In addition to academic skills, a child’s emotional, social, and family functioning also influence school success. As a new school year begins, it is time to be proactive in maximizing our child’s opportunity for a successful school year. To start, here’s a simple checklist that can be used to help clarify what areas may need to be addressed:

School History: If your child has struggled each year in school, it is important to identify the underlying causes. Psycho-Educational Testing can be done by the school or a licensed professional in the community to rule-out specific learning challenges. Once learning issues are ruled-out, the areas below require further assessment.

Emotional Functioning: If a child is experiencing significant emotional challenges (e.g. depression, anxiety, etc.), their school functioning will be compromised. Just as we bring our children to the doctor with physical symptoms, it is important to have a licensed mental health professional assess emotional/behavioral symptoms to determine if treatment is indicated.

Socialization: Social skills and overall social functioning correlates strongly with success in school, specifically, as well as life in general. Social skills are learned and require practice, meaning children need opportunities to socialize. Involvement in structured after school activities also correlate highly with academic performance. Creating opportunities for frequent social interaction should be a priority.

Family Life: It is rare that children with problems at home do not have problems in school. Clearly, significant family dysfunction requires professional intervention. In less severe circumstances, there are a variety of approaches that can enhance family functioning, including:
• Maximizing family time: In our busy worlds it is important to make time to have fun together as a family.
• Minimizing conflict: We can all do a better job of focusing more of our feedback on positive behaviors and less on negative ones.
• Remembering it’s our child’s school work not ours: So much family conflict revolves around homework and school performance. Help when asked, but give them ownership and they’ll learn responsibility.
• Listening more than lecturing: Being a good listener will help you give better advice and increase the odds that your child will actually put it to good use.

In our busy lives, we often try to address these issues only after the problems surface in school. This can be much more difficult, as we find ourselves feeling more and more pressure to correct the situation before the school year ends. Addressing these areas of concern now will help avoid repeating that cycle and allow your child to feel and be more successful at school.