By Dr. Jan Hittelman

A new school year presents a new opportunity to develop a game plan for the academic year that yields positive results for your student(s) as well as your family. Quite often, a stressor for one family member tends to have an impact on everyone; a parent’s new job, a family member struggling with emotional challenges, a sibling leaving home for college, and yes, a child starting the school year. More than many of us realize, children often feel apprehensive regarding the increased expectations that come with a new grade level, getting back into the habit of getting up early, studying for tests, and doing homework. The best way to deal with an impending stressor is preemptively. Consider these strategies:
• Instead of waiting for the inevitable meltdown, create an opportunity for the family to discuss the challenges the school year brings and how family members can support each other.
• Model checking-in at the dinner table regarding your week (trying to focus on accomplishments as well as challenges) and encourage other family members to do so as well. Just being able to vent about school stress can help your child reduce it.
• Frequently acknowledge what’s going right. Remember that it’s human nature to focus on the negative and take the positive for granted.
• Practice good self-care: Find healthy ways to reduce your own stress. Otherwise, you won’t have much patience for anyone else’s.
• Clarify your priorities: School is very important, but not as important as the parent-child relationship. Don’t let school conflicts create a rift between you and your child.
• Have a few laughs! Never underestimate the many benefits of making the time to have fun as a family. In our busy world, it may not happen if we don’t plan on it.
• If your child seems to be struggling academically, consider ruling out underlying emotional/learning issues before assuming it’s all about motivation. A good place to start is with your child’s classroom teacher.