If you’re like most parents this August, the start of the school year is probably synonymous with one word: panic. Not to worry. Sue Foreman, academic dean at Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School in Washington, D.C., has years of experience helping students—and their parents—navigate grades 9-12 at this all-girls college prep school. Here are her eight tips to get your kids eased into the fall and to help them have a successful year.
1. Be patient. It’s been three months since students have been in school, and adjusting will take some time. “Students have to be patient with themselves as they get into the groove, meet teachers and decide that they’re not necessarily in over their heads just because they’re not as comfortable in class on September 1 as they were May 1,” Foreman says.
2. Come up with some ground rules. Foreman stresses the importance of parents and children creating a plan together and agreeing on it. “I’m a big believer of people writing it down and putting it up on the fridge for everyone to see,” she says. For example: putting the phone away during dinner or limiting social activities during the week. But it’s a balance: “Managing the distractions—that’s the point of the schedule, not to make you a robot.” So if your child needs half an hour of TV time to decompress, that should be on the schedule, too.
3. Minimize digital distractions. Ask, “how are we going to manage their technology so it’s not a distraction?” She suggests setting up a basket in the kitchen for students to put their phones in when they get home from school.
4. Make sure they get some sleep. It’s really important that students get some solid shut-eye every night, Foreman says. Make sure you have a conversation with your kids about the importance of sleep and agree on how they will get eight or nine hours of sleep a night. And get a good routine going. “As goes Sunday night, so goes the week,” Foreman says. She particularly cautions against phone usage in bed at night in the dark, which can be detrimental to a good night’s rest.
5. Start the year off on a positive note. “Really set the tone that this is going to be a good year, you’re going to like your teacher, your teacher is going to like you, and set some goals,” Foreman said.
6. No scolding at the dinner table. The phone might be put away but that doesn’t mean dinnertime can’t be enjoyable. This time “should be a happy reliving of the day and not a time when a child feels under attack,” she said. “Then they just dread dinner.”
7. Avoid bribing your kids. “I don’t believe in bribes and I don’t believe in using money or products as rewards,” she said. Resist the temptation and instead, try to teach your child how to have “internal” rewards. After a good test score, say things such as, “You must be really proud of yourself.”
8. Use your “coach voice.” Foreman often advises parents to ditch the “mom voice.” Instead of being authoritative, talk to your child more like a friend and say things like, “This is hard; we’re going to do it in steps; I know you can do it; we’re going to get through this,” she suggests.