A Good Start for the School Year

As parents all across the state anticipate the start of a new school year, what can be done to ensure the greatest potential school experience for your children? A couple of psychologists listed 101 tips for kids and parents — too many to remember.

Diana Davis, writing for LifeWay Christian Resources, has some suggestions for churches: pray for students and teachers; make it easy for kids to invite friends to church; adopt a school; prepare for guests (children and teens as well as their parents).

Various experts concur on a few practical things such as a peaceful home environment and daily devotions that are brief. An important step is to be sure your child is familiar with the school building, inside and out. Having a study space at home for your child, along with a designated time for homework, is also recommended.

Children and teens can, and do, experience stress and anxiety related to school. When many of the unknowns are explained and reduced, the apprehension usually lessens. Something simple like having a transportation plan and a backup plan can help reassure a child. It is also recommended that you meet the teacher (even put his or her photo on your refrigerator) and help your child understand some basics for the grade level they will be entering. Another suggestion is to start the school schedule before school starts — both wake-up time and bedtime. Some parents have found it helpful to even drive the route from home to school to help alleviate their children’s uncertainty.

Dwight Easler, pastor of Corinth Baptist Church in Gaffney, has three children — a high school graduate, a high school senior, and a third grader. “They are all different,” he said. He and his wife, Tabitha, tried to prepare each child differently for the school year. “Seth, our oldest, was a global learner and required hands-on instruction. Preparing him for school involved a lot of helping him prepare himself for the fact that not all teachers were going to get him and he was going to have to work a little harder to get some of the subjects.”

Matthew, the middle child, is a self-motivator. “Preparing him for school has always been low pressure. He flourishes in the school environment, so praying with him and helping him set goals was essential.” He said his third-grade daughter is a “social butterfly.” They help her prepare for school by praying for her and “help steer her toward a good work ethic, but also encourage the friendships that are important to her.”

One of the most critical and often overlooked aspects of a good school year is sleep. Psychologist Archibald Hart has written, “There is no greater God-given gift that can help maintain a tranquil, non-anxious existence than sleep. Without adequate sleep, your brain and body become dysfunctional.”

According to the National Sleep Foundation, children and teens need between eight to 10 hours of sleep, and toddlers need 11 to 14 hours. Without that restful sleep, the changes, problems and challenges they face at school can be magnified, with the result being various kinds of anxiety and general stress. In turn, that can lead to academic underachieving and social tension. Hart stated, “Sleep is the best antidote for stress, but Western culture has taught us not to respect sleep.” His advice for children and teens is to go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same each morning.

The National Sleep Foundation also warns against watching television or using electronic devices just before bedtime because “[t]he light that’s emitted from these screens can delay the release of sleep-inducing melatonin, increase alertness, and reset the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythms).” Their suggestion is for kids to power down their electronics an hour or two before bedtime to allow their bodies to start producing more melatonin.

In the light of bullying, it is especially important for parents to observe any changes in their children’s behavior. Schools are not always sensitive to bullying, and a child or teenager can be scarred for many years because they were bullied in school. U.S. News and World Report stated in April of this year that “new research warns that victims of teenage bullying face a 40 percent greater risk for mental health problems by the time they hit their mid-20s.”

In preparation for the start of the school year, parents can talk with their children about bullying and what to do if their kids should be exposed to it. South Carolina does have anti-bullying laws and policies that can be found at stopbullying.gov.

The adage, “Preparation precedes blessing,” is an admonition for parents and kids to do as much as possible to prepare for the coming school year — that certainly includes prayer and good communication.