By Dr. Jan Hittelman
The time to plan for a successful school year is now. While this can benefit all children, it is particularly important if your child struggled in school last year. By developing a strategy now, it can be ready for implementation as school begins. Assess your child’s overall functioning last year using the following categories:
Academic performance: Grades, teacher reports, and any concerns of possible learning difficulties
Emotional Well-Being: Overall mood, anxiety level, and attitude towards school
Sociability: Ability to enjoy, make, value, and keep friends
Physical Fitness: Engages in frequent exercise or physical activity
Nutritional Habits: Eats healthy and maintains a well-balanced diet
While few children will come through this assessment unscathed, the more red flags you’ve identified, the more critical it is to develop a game plan for next school year. While there can be a wide range of issues and strategies to try and address them, here are some general suggestions:
Academic Difficulties: Try to determine if the primary challenge is motivational or a function of underlying learning difficulties. If you’re not sure, consider having your child evaluated by the school or privately by a psychologist specifically trained to do psycho-educational evaluations. The earlier learning challenges are identified, the better the chances are for successful interventions.
Emotional Issues: It is normal for children and adults to feel sad, anxious, angry, etc. from time to time. If these feelings occur regularly, however, it is important to have them assessed by a mental health professional to determine if follow-up is needed. This is particularly true if substance abuse is suspected.
Socialization Concerns: Unlike innate abilities, social skills require practice. Help your child to identify and participate in fun extracurricular activities like school clubs and sports, community programs, and youth groups. In more challenging cases, participation in social skills training group may be useful.
Poor Physical Fitness: Research consistently reflects the benefits of regular ongoing exercise for both our physical and mental health. If your child is resistant to participate in school sports, community recreation programs or classes, consider offering to do it with them. It’s easier to sell if you’re also modeling healthy behavior.
Poor Nutritional Habits: Modeling, once again, is an important factor in terms of what children eat. It is often beneficial to encourage children to participate in food shopping, meal planning and food preparation.
After coming up with some ideas on your own, invite your child to participate in developing the plan. The more supportive you can be in discussing these issues with your child; the more likely it is that your child will genuinely engage in the process of addressing them.