Parents, we’re well into the school year now and many of you are finding that your kiddos are having a hard time. Maybe they are falling behind with their school work, or maybe they are coming home upset because they are not making friends. Some of you are getting calls or emails from teachers letting you know that your kiddo is acting out, not staying in her seat, or even being aggressive to other kids. I see many of you in my office, and I know that you are worried. You want to know, “What can I do to help?”. Well, parents, there are a few things that you can do right now to help support your child’s mental health and subsequently his performance at school:
- Make sure your child is getting enough sleep. This is SO IMPORTANT. Think about how you feel when you are operating on just a few hours of sleep. Even an adult with a fully formed prefrontal cortex will be grumpy, sluggish, and sub optimal if she doesn’t get enough sleep (yes, speaking for myself here). It’s twice as hard for your little one (with her little developing brain) to function when she is tired. Grade school-aged kids should be getting about 10 hours of sleep per night, some kids do best with closer to 13. Remember: Early bedtimes are good bedtimes!
- Make sure your child has some unstructured time for fun and play. Watching YouTube and playing Fortnite is NOT what I’m talking about. I am talking about play with out screens. Like, go outside and run around play, or get out the Legos and build something cool play. I know this is not what your kids want to do. I know your kids really, really want their screens. But guys, you are the parents and you are in charge! You decide how much screen time your kids are going to have and then you stick to what you decided. Grade school aged kids should not have a TV, video game system, or iPad/tablet in their rooms. If your child has a phone/tablet of his own, keep it in a different room after lights out. Pro tip, if you play with them they are way more likely to stop asking for your phone.
- Make sure expectations and consequences are clear. Your child should know exactly what you expect from her, and she should know exactly what the consequence will be if she does not meet your expectations. So, instead of saying “If you get in trouble one more time the Xbox is going in the closet”, try “If I get a call or email from your teacher telling me that you were disruptive at school, I will take the Xbox. You can get it back when you have a week with no negative calls or emails from your teacher.” Write expectations and consequences down so that there is no confusion. Remember, if you set an expectation and a consequence, you must follow through.
- Keep your expectations realistic. Please remember that your child is a child. Children need breaks, they need encouragement, and they need the adults in their lives to remember that sometimes school can be hard. Each new school year is bringing with it a whole lot of changes for your child. New teacher, new classmates, new routines and new expectations. Do you remember what it was like the last time you changed jobs? It was probably a bit nerve racking and it most likely took you a little while to get into your rhythm. For your kids, each new school year is like starting a new job. Give them some time to get in the swing of things.
- Catch them being and doing good. When kids are struggling at school, they are most likely getting a lot of feedback about what they are not doing right. We need to look for, and celebrate, the things they are doing well. Maybe Jacob is not staying seated at school, but he is being a sweet big brother at home. Let him know that you see it and that you are proud of him. A few phrases that can be really powerful for kids to hear: “When you make a mistake you are still You are important. I see you working and learning every day. You make a difference in my life. Your ideas are interesting. Thank you for contributing to our family. I’m glad you’re here. I’m happy to talk with you. I’m proud of you.” (These were pulled from the excellent “64 Positive Things to Say to Kids”, for the full list click here: https://bouncebackparenting.com/64-encouraging-things-to-say-to-kids/) We do need to redirect and correct unwanted behavior, but we should never forget to reinforce the good stuff too.
- Take care of yourself. This is a big one parents. You need to make sure your own mental and physical health is good. You set the tone for your household and you are the biggest influence on your child’s life. If you are dealing with untreated depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues, your mood is going to impact your child. As parents we sometimes feel that taking care of our own needs is selfish, but that is simply not true! Being a healthy, happy parent is a tremendous gift to your little ones. Remember what they tell us on airplanes, “Put your own oxygen mask on first!”