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6 Simple Back-to-School Tips For Parents

ImageMost kids are back in school. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make on the fly improvements to help us get back into a routine. Here are 6 quick tips to help you get back on track:

  1. Restart the bedtime routine: It’s hard to get up for school the first day unless you start back into a normal bedtime routine now.
  2. Set up a place for homework: Set expectations now and get organized. Kids thrive on routine and organization.
  3. Talk to your child’s teacher, school psychologist or nurse: If you have ANY concerns about your child academically, socially or medically, reach out in advance. Being proactive is always better than being reactive.
  4. Prepare for sick days: Kids will inevitably get sick at the beginning of the school year as they come back together in such close quarters. Kids who have asthma often benefit from restarting their controller medications in anticipation of this. Visit your doctor to discuss this or any other medical needs before school starts.
  5. Consider helping kids in school districts with less: DonorsChoose.org makes it easy to help classrooms in need. Public school teachers post classroom project requests. Find a project that has some meaning to you and your family.
  6. Don’t stress: Back to school can be stressful for everyone. Try and relax and take it one day at a time.

Dr. Shaer is a pediatrician and a board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC). She is director of the Breastfeeding Medicine Center of Allied Pediatrics of New York.

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I’m Not Sure I Support Your Decision to Homeschool

Written by Suzanne Berman, MD, FAAP

My dear friends Matt and Jill are homeschooling their four children, and they’re doing an awesome job of it. Matt, no stranger to education (he has two master’s degrees) is a great communicator and very involved in his kids’ lives.

Jill is smart, sweet, and a model of organization; the “master whiteboard” in her kitchen reflects an orderliness worthy of a military quartermaster. Their kids are well-behaved, smart, curious, and articulate, just like their mom and dad. And the more time they spend with their parents, the more their parents’ character, values, and personality will be instilled in their kids. What’s not to like about homeschooling?

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, homeschooling pioneers fought for the right to direct their children’s educations. And they got good results, too. The original predictions of warped, antisocial children didn’t seem to pan out, and the early generations of homeschooled kids turned out as well-educated (if not better) than the average public schoolchild.

But I’m starting to see some disturbing trends in homeschooling: less Matt and Jill, and more child neglect and perjury.

Not too long ago, an 11-year-old boy came to my office for a well-child check, accompanied by his mom. “How’s school going?” I asked, as I a do always do. “Oh, I’m homeschooled,” he replied. “Tell me about that,” I continued, “what you like to learn about most?”

“Well,” he said, thoughtfully, “we usually do it on the computer. But we haven’t really done any school for a long time, so mostly I watch TV with my dad.” The boy and his two school-aged siblings had been pulled out of school one year prior because dad disagreed with the school’s assessment that the son was not performing at grade level.

The boy reported watching six hours of TV per day most days, with another two-to-three hours of computer game time per day. He might get in thirty minutes of the school program per day. Mom (and later Dad) separately reported that the boy’s self-assessment of school hours was correct.

“We’ve just been so busy with life,” they admitted, “we just haven’t gotten around to doing much school this year.” However, I didn’t see many hopeful indicators that things would change soon; mom works long hours at her job; dad is too disabled to work. When I checked in with them later, the boy couldn’t remember doing any appreciable school work in over six months.

Another mother came in with her 17-year-old daughter, 12 year old daughter, and 7 year old son. Mom reported that her three children are homeschooled; however, she is a single parent and is working 2 jobs to make ends meet.

Mother reports that her kids enjoy staying home. “We have it worked out,” mother explained, “so that while I’m at work, the oldest does her work on the computer. Then she can help the other two with their assignments.”

I gently asked the mother if being responsible for their schooling wasn’t overwhelming, given her work hours as a single parent. “No,” she said, “I don’t have to get them off on the school bus in the morning, so that saves me a lot of time.”

Similarly, a twelve-year-old told me this week that her “homeschooling” for the past three months has consisted of reading a novel — plus cleaning the house and keeping an eye on her fellow foster sibs so her foster parents can work. Other subjects? “No,” she said thoughtfully, “I really haven’t done any math or social studies or anything like that.”

Another mother came in with her twin 7-year-old daughters. The girls had matted hair and body odor. Mother, who had trouble keeping her eyes open during the visit, had lost custody of the twins when they were three years old for about a year; details were sketchy, but the Department of Children’s Services had been involved for a time.

“We’re doing great now, and I’m homeschooling them,” mother stated proudly, if sleepily. “They know all their shapes and letters, and we’re working on their colors and numbers.”

Families don’t have to be accountable to me for their school choice, but they need to be accountable to someone.

The homeschool umbrella (either a private school or local school district) at least nominally asks for attendance records and progress reports.

Even informal homeschool co-ops, which exist in many communities, help parents share best practices with each other. But the families that give me the most concern seem to have a lot of self-imposed isolation: the children don’t participate in music groups or sports teams, and the family doesn’t participate in community activities or attend worship services.

In extreme (and fortunately rare) cases, this can have heartbreaking consequences society expressed its disgust in the failure of child protective services workers to identify this perilous situation, but if someone from outside his family read Christian’s anguished “school essays,” might the outcome have been different?

There’s plenty not to like about public schools and private schools, and families in America certainly have the right to opt to home educate their children.

But public and private schools at least have requirements for transparency and accountability – in fact, that’s usually how we know which schools are winners and which aren’t.

Families like Matt and Jill, who still make up many of the homeschooling families I see professionally, occasionally express annoyance at required record keeping; they’re motivated to do it right even without oversight.

But when homeschooling families don’t appear to take their education responsibility seriously, and there are no consequences from their umbrella, who will hold them accountable?

Suzanne Berman is a practicing general pediatrician in rural Tennessee. Her study of Medicaid access was supported by a grant from the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Community Access to Child Health (CATCH) program.

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How To Help your Kids With Homework?

Written by Kristen Stuppy MD

Any parent with school aged children knows that homework can be a battle. Even good students can procrastinate, prefer to play, or have practice after school leaving little time for homework. Then there are the kids who struggle.

I think I threw my son’s middle school homeroom teacher for a loop on back to school night. She mentioned that I can always look on line to see the assignments, and I replied something to the effect of, “I don’t have homework, so I’ll never look. It is his responsibility to know what is due.” I am not an absent parent.

I do ask about his day, what he’s doing in class, and what his plans are with friends. He knows I care because I show interest in him, but I don’t micro-manage his day. I do not want to be the parent responsible for the college kid who fails because Mommy can’t manage his schedule.

Of course, I know my son and he’s self motivated and capable of keeping track of assignments. Another child might need more help, but at this age I would recommend covertly looking at the assignments and guiding with questions and looking for the student to offer solutions and plans to get the work done.

How can you help your kids with homework without letting it become your problem?

I am a firm believer that kids are the students, not the parents. Kids need to take ownership of their homework and all other aspects of school. Of course, for many kids this is easier said than done, but I hear all too often of college kids who have Mommy call the Professor to question a grade. That is totally unacceptable. Kids need to practice ownership from early on. Parents need to guide always, but manage less and less as the kids grow.

Not every solution comes from a cookie cutter mold. Kids have different personalities and abilities. You know your kids best. Think how they work and what makes them tick.

Many parents underestimate the problem with missing out on basics: sleep, nutrition, and exercise. If kids don’t get the amount of sleep they need, healthy foods, and regular exercise, they will not be as successful academically. I have blogged on this previously, and really feel that finding balance is important for everyone.

Kids have different problems with homework at different times, and they each deserve their own solutions. Not one of these “types” fits every child perfectly. Most kids have more than one of these qualities, but tend to fit into one type best.

Procrastination:

There is always something more fun to do than work. Kids will put off overwhelming tasks or big projects because, well, there’s a lot to do.

Ask not only what homework they have for tomorrow, but if there are any big projects due in the future. See if they can estimate how much time it will take to do the project and help them plan how much to do each night to get it done on time.

Breaking big assignments or long worksheets into small pieces with short breaks in between can help kids focus. Use a timer for breaks or do a fun quick activity, like silly dance to one song.

Allow kids to have some “down” time after school for a healthy snack (brain food) and to run off energy. Limit this time with a timer to 30 minutes or so. The timer helps kids know there is an end point to the fun, and then it’s time for work. Play can resume when work is done correctly.

Poor Self Confidence:

Kids who are afraid they won’t understand their homework might fear even starting. They blame the teacher for not teaching it correctly. They might complain that they are stupid or everyone else is smarter. They blame the class for being too loud, causing distraction and therefore more homework. They might complain of chronic headaches or belly aches.

Be sure to praise when kids do things right and when they give a good try. Be honest, but try to think of something positive to tell them each day. When they don’t meet expectations, first see if they can see the mistake and find a solution themselves. Guide without giving the solution. Then praise the effort!

Find their strengths and allow them to follow those. If they are poor in math but love art, keep art materials at home and display their projects with pride. Consider an art class. Remember to budget time. Over scheduling can result in anxiety, contributing to the problems.

Perfectionist:

While the desire to do everything right has it’s benefits, it can cause a lot of anxiety in kids. These kids think through things so much that they can’t complete the task. See also the “poor self confidence” section above, because these kids are at risk for feeling they are failures if they don’t get a 100% on everything. They can have melt downs if the directions don’t make sense or if they have a lot of work to do.

Help your child learn organizational techniques, such as write down assignments and estimate time to do each project. Plan how much time to spend each day on big projects and limit to that time. Help them review their progress in the middle of big projects to see if they are on track. If not, have them establish another calendar and learn to review why they are behind. (No self-blame. Is it because one step took longer than projected, they were invited to a movie and skipped a day, they got sick and were not able to work… This helps plan the next project and builds on planning skills.

Remember to give attention and praise for just being your kid. These kids feel pressure to succeed, but they need to remember that they are loved unconditionally.

If you notice they have an incorrect answer, state “that isn’t quite right. Is there another way to approach the problem?”

Not everything is about the grade. Praise the effort they put into all they do, not the end point. Make positive comments on other attributes: a funny thing they said, how they helped a younger child, how they showed concern for someone who was hurt.

Encourage them to try something new that is outside their talent. Not only are they exploring life, but they are developing new skills, and learning to be humble if they aren’t the best at this activity. Help them praise others. Model this behavior in your own life.

Co-dependence:

Helicopter parenting is a term often used to describe the parent hovering over the child in everything they do. This does not allow a child to learn from failing. It does not allow a child to grow into independence. It allows the parent to “own” the problem of homework. These kids call home when they leave the homework or lunch on the kitchen table for Mommy to bring it to school. These kids grow up blaming everyone when things don’t go their way and Mommy can’t fix it. They don’t learn to stand up for themselves. They seem constantly immature with life situations.

Young children need more guidance, but gradually decrease this as they get older. Teachers can help guide you on age appropriate needs. Most parents must sign a planner of younger kids, but as kids get older the kids become more responsible for knowing what the homework is. Many schools now have websites that parents can check homework assignments, but be sure the kids own the task of knowing what is due too.

Have a place that children can work on homework without distraction (tv, kids playing, etc).

Be available to answer questions, but don’t do the work for them. If they need help, find another way to ask the question that might help them see the solution. Get a piece of scrap paper that they can try to work through the problem. If they have problems with reading comprehension, have them read a few lines then summarize to you what they read. They can take notes on their summary, then read the notes after the entire chapter to get a full summary.

Busy, busy, busy:

Some kids are really busy with after school activities, others just rush through homework to get it done so they can play.

Set limits on how much screen time (tv, video games, computer time) kids can have each week day and week end. A maximum of 10 hours per week of screen time is recommended by experts. If they know they can’t watch more than 30 minutes of tv, they are less likely to rush through homework to get to the tv.

Ask kids to double check their work and then give to you to double check if you know they make careless mistakes. Don’t correct the mistakes, but kindly point them out and ask if they can find a better answer. Once they learn that they have to sit at the homework station until all the work is done correctly, they might not be so quick to rush.

If kids have after school activities the time allowed for home work and down time are affected. Avoid over scheduling, especially in elementary school. Be sure they have time for homework, sleep, healthy meals, and free time in addition to their activities. Are the activities really so important that they should interfere with the basic needs of the child? Is the child mature enough to handle the work load?

Kids who are in constant motion can’t seem to sit still long enough to do homework. Be sure they have the proper balance of sleep, nutrition, and exercise or all else will fail. Praise their efforts when they are successful. Set a timer after school to let them play hard for 30 minutes, but then make them sit. Help little ones organize what needs to be done and break homework into several smaller jobs. Set regular 5 minute breaks every 30 minutes so they can release energy. Set a timer to remind them to get back to work and compliment them when they get back on task.

Struggling despite help:

There are many reasons kids struggle academically. Reasons vary, such as behavior problems, anxiety, illness, learning disabilities, bullying, and more.

If they are struggling academically, talk with the teacher to see if there are any areas that can be worked on in class or with extra help at school. Can the teacher offer suggestions for what to work on at home?

If kids have chronic pains or school avoidance, ask what is going on. Depression and anxiety aren’t obvious and can have vague symptoms that are different than adult symptoms. Bullying can lead to many consequences, and many kids suffer in silence. If your child won’t talk to you, consider a trained counselor.

Talk with your pediatrician if your child is struggling academically despite resource help at school or if he suffers from chronic headaches or tummy aches. Treating the underlying illness and ruling out medical causes of pain is important. Depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other learning disorders can be difficult to identify, but with proper diagnosis and treatment, these kids can really succeed and improve their self confidence!

Dr. Stuppy is a practicing pediatrician in Kansas. I feels privileged to be able to help families keep their children healthy and she loves watching entire families grow!  Dr Stuppy is active on Facebook and puts a more personal touch to pediatric topics on her blog.