How to make this school year a success for your children

Published: Sunday, Aug. 12 2012 5:00 p.m. MDT

Corey Moore, of Cedar Hills, says her 8-year-old son, Kyle, for some reason likes to wear the same outfit every day.

Sometimes these clothes end up with stains and tears. With the new school year approaching, Moore wondered how she could get her son to dress presentably every day without a fight.

This is among the many challenges parents face when school starts every fall. Parents suggest varying methods to deal with the summer-to-school transition and getting children ready for a school year of success.

Moore solved her son’s clothes-repeating problem by taking the advice of an experienced schoolteacher who lives in her neighborhood — she uses contracts. These contracts set a standard of behavior for her children to follow and rewards for them when they meet that standard.

With her son, Kyle, Moore made a contract that he can’t wear stained clothing and can’t wear the same clothes more than once in a week. If he keeps the contract, he gets a reward, and if he breaks the contract, the reward is withheld.

“Now the parent isn’t the bad person, it’s the contract,” Moore said.

Moore plans to make a new contract before school starts with the three of her four boys who are in school. She said she will do her best to include everything she can foresee being a problem, including getting up on time and doing their homework.

Every time her children accomplish one of the items in their contracts, they earn points. Moore keeps track of the points on a paper on her fridge, and once a month her family holds an auction. She buys candy and toys from the dollar store and her children can “buy” them with the points they’ve earned for their good behavior.

Moore said the biggest advantage she’s seen from making these contracts with her children is it makes them responsible for their own behavior.

“They know if they don’t do them (the things on the contract), they won’t get the reward,” she said. “So now I’m not constantly nagging all the kids to get stuff done.”

Moore also supplies her children with planners — even in elementary school — so they can write down what they have to do each day. The planners and the contract system, she said, have helped her to not be such a “helicopter mom” who is always on top of her kids, reminding them about what they need to do next.

“Once they know what’s in place, that makes them responsible and I don’t have to worry about all that stuff,” she said.

She also has recognized the importance of allowing her children to mess up sometimes. If they forget their lunch one day, they will suffer the consequences of that and be less likely to do it again. She also recognizes that it’s better for them to make mistakes now when they’re younger and the consequences are smaller.

Moore’s 5-year-old son, Jay, will be starting kindergarten in the fall. Since it’s his first time going to school, Moore plans to take him to the elementary school a few days before class starts to show him around. She said this will help him see that school is a fun and safe place where he can feel comfortable.

Debra Hale, of San Jose, Calif., is a mother of two children, one boy and one girl, who are both relatively new to school. She said she tries to keep their after-school schedule light the first few weeks as a new school schedule can be tiring after a more lax summer routine.

A few weeks before school begins, she starts helping them get back into the routine of going to bed and waking up earlier, packing their school lunches and reading more. No matter what, she said, they are going to be a little sluggish once school starts, but parents just need to establish a routine, a time and place for homework, and keep the schedule light until they are adjusted.

Social worker Janet Lehman posted some tips on empoweringparents.com on how parents can help their children succeed in the new school year, especially if they’ve had problems in the past.

Lehman recommends calling a family meeting and formally deciding as a group what things need to change for the better for the new school year. She advises parents to be realistic, specific and set the expectation for improvement. Once the school year starts, Lehman tells parents to find help among those who work at their children’s school and to remember that it’s never too late to change and implement structure into your child’s life.

“Don’t forget, you’re making this transition into the school year along with your child,” she wrote. “Try not to do it alone. Talk with your spouse and come at it as a team. If you’re a single parent, speak with other parents, family and friends. Be kind to yourself and reduce your own expectation that you have to solve everything. Try to say, ‘If it was a terrible year last year, this will be a better year. It may not be perfect, but it can be better.’ ”

Email: mgarrett@desnews.com

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