Employee & Community Health

Homework: Revisit habits for a successful school year

12/4/2017 by Dr. Sarah Atunah-Jay; Hannah Mulholland, LICSW; Nikki Rose, LICSW

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School is in full swing, making it a great time to revisit goals and reflect upon good habits - for kids and families. Families and communities play an important role in the school success of children. Here are some tips for establishing habits that will help your child with common school-related issues, both in and out of the classroom: 

Sleep

Getting the right amount of rest - nine to 11 hours for kids six to 13 and eight to 10 hours for older kids - is an important building block for school success. Aim for consistent wake-up and bedtimes. Turn off screens at least 60 minutes before bedtime, and charge electronics outside the bedroom to avoid nighttime disruptions. It's especially helpful for children when caregivers model good screen habits - as well as improving adult sleep, too. 

Stress

Kids of all ages may feel anxious about making friends and thriving at school and in the community. 

  • Acknowledge your child's concerns and talk about strategies to deal with specific worries. 
  • Children are more likely to stay calm in challenging situations if their caregivers model calm behavior.
  • Reassure your child that he or she can handle the situation. A reminder of past successes, such as when your daughter did well on a test or your son made a new friend, can boost confidence and calm nerves. 
  • Talking through challenging scenarios can prepare your child when they encounter similar situations outside the home. 
  • Routines, such as family meals, help families stay connected and provide opportunities to discuss children's successes and challenges. 

Helping your child set goals related to effort, not performance, can decrease their school stress. It's especially difficult for kids to put things in perspective, so they benefit from parents sharing their own school experiences. 

Healthy body image

Many students feel pressure to look a certain way. Media images, peers and caregivers affect how they feel about their bodies. Make your influence a positive one. 

  • Focus on your child's achievements rather than appearance, and help her/him to do the same. 
  • Encourage healthy eating habits, physical activity and positive friendships to help your child develop a healthy body image. 

Sports can be a great way for children to feel good physically and make positive connections with peers, but be wary of programs that emphasis winning over the enjoyment of playing and the importance of teamwork. 

Bullying

Bullying is more common than adults like to think. A child who is being bullied may have worsening grades or show less interest in going to school. Children who bully are modeling learned behavior. 

Children should be encouraged to talk with a trusted adult if they see bullying or other unsafe behavior happening at school or online. Prejudice-based bullying is both prevalent and particularly harmful. It helps when families discuss and model the value of diverse perspectives at home, including treating others with respect online and offline. . 

Find out if your child's school uses anti-bullying curriculum, which can promote positive school environments. 

Homework & time management

Work with your child to identify a homework routine, including a consistent time and place: 

  • Avoid the distractions of phones or TV. 
  • Prioritize assignments based on due dates and how much effort they require. 
  • For some kids, it works best to first complete an assignment they enjoy least; others gain a sense of accomplishment by first completing assignments they like best. 
  • Kids also benefit from breaking larger assignments into smaller, more manageable tasks and using to-do lists. 

If your child is struggling with homework, don't just give the answer; instead, work with them to identify a solution to the problem. Encourage them to speak with teachers; having a homework buddy can help build self-sufficiency and confidence. 

Create a schedule to balance academic, extra-curricular and social activities. As part of the plan for the upcoming week, include what needs to be done and what your child hopes to do. Identify the amount of time for each task and work with your child to help them create and set priorities. Preparing the night before - picking out clothes, packing lunches and getting backpacks ready - can make mornings less rushed. 

But remember, unscheduled time can be the most fun of all!

Media

Screen time consumes more and more of our days. Phones, tablets and video games compete with other important activities. Distracted learning results in poorer academic performance. Create a family media plan to make sure there is enough time for other important activities such as sleep, exercise, homework, and play. Shut off screens during mealtimes and while driving - instead, use that time to check in on the ups and downs of your child's day. 

Parenting goals

As your family navigates the school years, keep in mind that the ultimate goal of parenting is to raise independent, responsible adults. To do that, children need support and encouragement. But they also need opportunities to make their own decisions - and their own mistakes. That doesn't mean you should never intervene. If you suspect your child is being bullied, abusing alcohol or drugs, or struggling with an eating disorder, step in and get help. But for many less serious issues, the best solution may be the one your child comes up with on their own. 

Well-child exams aren't just for infants and toddlers. Review the Mayo Clinic's recommended child and adolescent exam schedule to make sure your child has immunizations, developmental milestones, nutrition, safety and emotional well-being assessed by a primary care provider. 

Dr. Sarah Atunah-Jay is a pediatric and adolescent specialist at Mayo Clinic Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (CPAM). She has a particular interest in health equity, prejudice-based bullying, culturally responsive care, and refugee and international health. 

Hannah Mulholland, LICSW, and Nikki Rose, LICSW, are clinical social workers serving children and adolescents in ECH's Division of Integrated Behavioral Health (IBH).