ParentingThe Family Unit
Setting Your Child Up for a Successful School Year
By Melissa Madill
The beginning of a new school year is typically a busy time for parents. With school schedules, activity schedules and sports schedules to balance, parents might overlook that this time of year can be a stressful time for a child. Throw into the mix any of the military lifestyle factors and a child can be left feeling overwhelmed.
There are a couple of actions that parents can do to be proactive when it comes to setting their children up for a successful school year. When it comes to facing new situations children adjust easier when the gap between the unknown and the known is closed says Greg Lubimiv, the director for Phoneix Centre for Children and Families in Pembroke. Parents can lower a child’s anxiety level by helping their children feel comfortable in their new location of residence before the social aspect of school is added.
When a family is adjusting to a new community parents can take the lead in helping their children adjust to their new environment by creating a sense of place for their children. By helping their children connect with other children in their new neighbourhood and speaking positively about their new school, parents can ease stress for their children. Lubimiv suggests families “visit the school before classes begin, meet the teacher, play on the playground at the school and most importantly create a routine with the child.” Designing a routine that the whole family can uphold is key to ensuring that it will be successful; hence, it is recommended that a family sit down and discuss their schedule and routine together. Lubimiv suggests that families have a routine in place and start it a couple of weeks before the new school year begins, as it will make the transition smoother for children once the school year begins.
Along with a family routine, Lubimiv suggests that parents create a communication routine to keep conversation flowing in the household. He mentions that dinner is the most common time for families to discuss the events that have taken place throughout their day; however, he says that right before bedtime is the best time to talk to your children. “That way they have relaxed from their day, had time to analyze what has happened and are able to talk more freely.”
Having an open communication path is important between parents and children. Lubimiv suggests that parents practice active listening with their children. Two common mistakes parents make is criticizing their child and wanting to solve their child’s problems. Criticizing a child when he is sharing his problem not only interrupts the flow of communication between the parent and child, but if the child doesn’t feel safe talking about his problems with his parents, he may find someone else to tell his problems to, and it might not be someone the parents know. When it comes to children over the age of 10 years-old parents need to give their child the opportunity to solve his own problems. Let the child seek out a parent, as it will be empowering for the child. Parents can suggest solutions for their child’s problem, but in the end it is important that the child decide how he wants to solve his problem. Parents who are having problems communicating with their child might want to find someone for their child to talk to that their child has a comfortable relationship with.
When Kim Trites’ soldier was deployed she found that she needed to go outside of her home to find someone for her son to talk to. Trites found a male social worker for her eight year-old son to speak with twice a week throughout the deployment. “He was having a hard time talking to me with his dad gone. So, when he started having a male figure in his life, it helped him communicate,” explains Trites.
When parents are looking to keep their children active, after school activities are a great solution. Lubimiv suggests two activities as being the right amount to keep a manageable schedule. Older children tend to have the element of peer pressure added to their decision making process when it comes to joining an activity or sport. Parents might want to question their older children as to why they want to be involved in an activity. Parents need to listen to their children’s reasoning as to why they want to join a specific activity and ask them questions about why they prefer one activity over another activity. Giving children choices while they are young will teach them how to make their own sound decisions down the road.
The beginning of the school year is a great opportunity for parents to develop a relationship with their children’s teachers, as it lays a good foundation in case any problems develop during the school year. If an issue does occur the best way to deal with it is by creating a triangular communication model. Parents should have a meeting with the teacher and the child together. This allows all parties involved to meet and explain their side of the issue. The triangular communication model gives the parent a chance at getting to the bottom of the issue as well as finding a resolution for all parties involved. By bringing the child into the equation it teaches the child how to deal with conflict resolution.
If a child’s behaviour changes at school or at home for a period of time parents should take notice as it may be a sign the child is struggling with a problem. “A change in eating and sleeping patterns, friends calling and then not calling are some major signs that something is wrong,” points out Lubimiv. If a child’s personality, behaviour or interests take a sudden turn, then the parent needs to take notice and decide how to address the issue with the child. When it comes to younger children, parents will notice a change in play, which is a sign the child is distressed; however, when it comes to teenagers, they can be a little more complicated. No matter what a child’s age is, if his safety or health is a concern it is important to get help for him.
In most situations children’s problems are fixable, but it comes back to an open communication path. Ignoring a problem is not a wise choice. Exposing it may open doors to a more serious issue that needs attention.
Trites has lived in three different provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Ontario. She says juggling four children, school, work, activities and much more is all about taking a day at a time and having a good routine. “When my fiancé was overseas my routine is what helped me through the day. Everyone knew what they needed to do and we made it work,” explains Trities.
She adds, “Nobody is perfect or has a solution to every problem, but military wives are a special type. We are strong for our men and our children. I do the best I can.”