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Back to School TIPS
Come September—or the end of August, depending on where you live—millions of children will start school, or will return to it after the summer break. As important as this event is for students, it’s even more significant for their parents. After all, children may not appreciate how vital scholastic success is in the grand scheme of things, but their parents certainly do.

So, what can parents do to help their children flourish in school? I have assembled the following tips for you to consider as the academic year begins.

Be Your Child’s Advocate
Schools are busy places. It’s easy for children experiencing difficulties to be overlooked. As your child’s advocate you can make his teacher aware of any concerns that arise. Maybe there has been a recent divorce or a death in the family. Perhaps your child has problems making friends or struggles in certain subjects. Speaking up for him in a helpful and friendly manner increases his chance of succeeding in school. Don’t expect a busy teacher to know every nuance of your child’s life.

Think of the Teacher as Another Parent
Since your child spends more time in school than at home, teachers contribute considerably to his growth and development. It’s helpful to think of you and your child’s teacher as partners. Notes, phone calls and parent-teacher conferences are all opportunities for you to communicate. Stay in touch, and stay involved.

Teach Respect for People and Possessions
I recently surveyed teachers of all grades, asking them what changes they have seen in children over the last few years. All were in consensus about two concerns: children’s lack of respect for their own possessions, and their lack of respect for adults. Regarding the former, teachers said they couldn’t believe what was left behind in lost-and-found bins. They told me that kids expect that their parents will replace anything they lose or ruin, so they view everything as disposable.

The fact that they show a similar disregard for adults is more disturbing still. You can reverse this alarming trend by teaching your children to be respectful of their elders, including their teachers. One way to do this is by behaving respectfully yourself. Never put down your child’s teacher in front of him, for example. If you’re experiencing problems with his teacher, handle it privately.

Monitor Your Child’s Progress
A child’s self-esteem is crucial to the development of his personality. Self-esteem is what a child thinks of himself—in essence, the reputation he has with himself. Earning good grades, being desired as a friend and being loved by parents are the building blocks for a healthy self-esteem. As the school year progresses, keep tabs on your child to make sure he’s not falling behind academically, feeling rejected by peers or feeling neglected at home. Just as a physician monitors a child’s temperature, weight and heartbeat, you want to monitor your child’s learning, peer relationships and sense of security at home.

Be Consistently Involved
There have been ample studies done that show children do best in school when their parents are involved with their education. When children see that their parents care, it motivates them to keep trying. And I do mean both parents. In a divorce, a parent may show disdain for the ex-spouse by withholding report cards or information about school activities. If you’re divorced, don’t let negative feelings interfere with your child’s academic success. You want to show him that both of you are involved and interested in his progress.

Get Off to a Good Start with Homework
Nightly battles over homework can be a source of stress and aggravation. If that’s the scenario at your house, read “Ending the Homework Hassle” by John Rosemond. This book is filled with advice about how parents can help their children be responsible about homework.

Consider Private Tutoring
Because children have different learning styles, it’s not unusual for a student to fall behind. But once a child falls behind, he’s likely to become extremely discouraged. In time, he will come to dislike school altogether. One solution is to hire a private tutor for a few months to help your child catch up and strengthen his skills. A friendly, enthusiastic tutor can help a child regain his confidence and start feeling better about school. It’s a great way to help motivate children to do their best.

If you’re like most parents I know, you have high hopes for your children this school year. I hope these tips inspire you to help them make the grade!

Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education