News & Press
Community Wellness: Tips to put children on road to success at school
By Joel Sanchez, M.D., Child Psychiatrist
Ionia County Community Mental Health
Posted Sep. 4, 2015 at 11:56 PM
As school resumes this fall, parents and other caregivers can take steps to help their children become academically successful this year. Here are a few tips to consider:
It is important to establish and stick to a routine. Kids respond well to routines, because routines help them to know what to expect of their world, and this reduces their anxiety. Routines lessen ambiguity in their lives and can offer reassurance as they develop a clear understanding of expectations and responsibilities. The more consistent their environment is, the more easily they’ll be able to predict the outcomes or reactions they get.
One of the biggest issues I hear about is children not getting enough sleep. Good sleep hygiene positively impacts a child’s ability to function in school – physically and mentally. A bedtime routine, including an established bedtime, leads to the child being able to consistently fall asleep in the same manner each night, and to stay asleep. The average elementary school-age child needs 10 to 12 hours of sleep, so be sure to take early morning times to wake up, have breakfast and get ready for the bus into consideration. For more information about how to establish good sleep habits, visit the Child Mind Institute at http://bit.ly/1XpVloD.
In addition to getting enough rest, it’s also vital that kids begin the day by eating an adequate breakfast. Children will struggle with attention issues if they are dealing with hunger. Food provides energy for the body and the brain, and without energy children may fall asleep or have difficulty focusing on their studies. Hunger affects memory and concentration.
A good routine for study time also is important. A consistent schedule with an emphasis on homework gives the child a clear message about the importance of academics. If studying is important one day and not another, the child gets mixed messages about the priority of academics. In response, many children will develop a pattern of minimizing their homework responsibilities by saying, “I don’t have any homework.”
A suggestion I often give to parents is that they establish a routine where every day some time is spent in “study time” or some other title of their choosing. It doesn’t have to be homework, if the child doesn’t have any. But the child is still expected to sit in the area where they do homework and read a book or do something that is academic in some way. A study routine removes some of the pressure and allows the child to realize that, even if they don’t have homework, they don’t get to do whatever they want. This can help make the child be forthright about what they are supposed to accomplish that day.
How much homework is enough? The “10-Minute Rule,” which came from research by Duke University professor Harris Cooper, suggests 10 minutes of homework per grade level starting in first grade. An elementary school student may make 30 minutes of guaranteed study part of their routine, and a later elementary student 45 minutes to an hour, for example. That may be too much or too little, but it’s a guideline.
Some kids have extracurricular activities that can get in the way of scheduling homework time: piano lessons, sports or theater, for example. It’s important for the parent/caregiver and child to sit down at the beginning of the year to develop a schedule for when that academic time will occur – still leaving time for a proper dinner and to get to bed on time.
Because consistency in the environment is good for a child, it’s helpful for the school and the household, or multiple households if that is the case, to have schedules that mirror each other the best they can, especially regarding expectations. Any time there are multiple caregivers – split families, a grandparent or other family member who is there after school, or a day care program – it’s important for the adults to work together to increase consistency. The more their routines and expectations of the child can be in line with each other’s, the better it is for the child.
Another way to help improve a child’s success in school is to establish a good relationship with teachers, administrators and support personnel. If there are concerns, most teachers will be responsive to giving and receiving feedback, positive and negative, if they’re invited to do so. When receiving feedback from a teacher or other staff member, it is important to remember that they have chosen their profession because they have a vested interest in education and the well-being of children. Teachers do have the child’s best interest in mind, so be sure to approach the relationship as a partnership and the two of you being part of the team working with your child, as opposed to two entities working separately.
It is also important to remind the child that school is there for them, and teachers are there to answer questions and clarify things. Sometimes kids hold back on questions or seeking help because they’re afraid they will be seen as different. Encourage them to ask questions and consider the feedback they get from their teachers. Their teachers and principal are all people who are modeling what a boss or coworker may be in the future, so these are important roles to appreciate and begin to learn how to work with, because they don’t disappear when kids graduate from high school.
When a child is struggling with school, some of the direct signs to watch for are denial that they have homework, excessive frustration with homework, and changes in mood and the way they express feelings, like negativity. More indirect signs include an increase in complaints about illness, wanting to stay home from school or leave school, inconsistent grades between homework and tests (they may perform well on one and not on the other), and a decreased ability to retain information.
If you are noticing problems, always start with the teacher first. Ask if the teacher sees similar issues or changes in the child. You’ll also get a better idea of how the child is performing in the school setting. As kids get older, and spend less time with an individual teacher (they can have up to six in a day), it may be helpful to contact a school guidance counselor or therapist, depending on your concerns.
For more information or questions, contact Sarah McDiarmid, Ionia County Community Mental Health school-based outreach worker, at 616-527-1790. For additional information and resources, visit the National Association of School Psychologists at www.nasponline.org or the National Education Association at www.nea.org.