Disclosure :: This post is sponsored by St. Martin’s Episcopal School and written by Christina Heath, M.Ed., LPC-S, NCC.
6 Effective Strategies to Help Your Family Stay Positive This School Year
With the school year underway, now is a great time to implement strategies to help keep your family happy and reduce stress throughout the year. Here are six ways to help your child be successful and maintain a positive mentality all year long.
1. Practice Mindfulness
Consider incorporating mindfulness into your family’s daily routine. A simple 10-minute meditation can do wonders for your child’s developing brain. It is scientifically proven that mindfulness and meditation can reduce anxiety, increase empathy, and promote happiness in any age group. Also, students who practice daily mindfulness show increased resiliency.
Here are a few user-friendly resources for mindfulness:
- Guided Imagery Scripts – for relaxation
- Mandalas are wonderful, and fun, tools for mindfulness
- Mobile apps such as Calm, Headspace, Smiling Mind
2. Manage Homework
Being proactive about homework can help prevent stress. Parents set the tone and example for children; for example, parents who are anxious about a subject can negatively impact their child’s performance. In turn, this can lead to an overall increased anxiety toward the subject.
Instead, strive to create a school-positive environment that helps alleviate anxiety toward a certain school subject. Rather than make statements such as, “That’s okay, I’m not good at math either,” parents can model “math behavior.” Show your teen how to calculate a restaurant tip or encourage a younger child to help count change for small purchases.
Partner with your child’s school! Clear, open communication with your child’s teacher is beneficial in maintaining a positive and healthy school year. Also, having consistent, daily routines with homework, studying, and reading time helps to reduce stress and negative feelings.
3. Study Smarter
Oftentimes students do not need to study more, but they can benefit from distributing study time differently. Initiate the first day of studying and go back to the subject 1-2 days later. By repeating this pattern every few days, it assists the brain in retrieving information more easily; it also marks the content as something important and to be recalled.
Our brains benefit from variation and periodic breaks. This school year, try a new approach to studying by “talking about it” and “spacing.” To talk about it, ask your young child to “play teacher” and self-test. Spacing study of one subject out by a few days helps prevent fatigue and increases memory retention (study three times per week for 30 minutes rather than once for 90 minutes). Older students may benefit from using large stacks of flashcards. With more cards in a stack, more time passes before a student sees a repeat card; larger stacks create more spacing.
4. Get Enough Sleep
Most commonly, sleep issues in students are due to limit-setting concerns at home. It is vital that parents establish clear, set routines for evening rituals such as dinner, bath, and bed times.
One way to help children get more sleep is to remove all screens — cell phones, iPads, computers, tablets, television, etc. — from bedrooms. No matter what the child’s age, screens in the bedroom are tempting and can easily lead to unhealthy habits and ultimately, irregular sleep patterns.
A close correlation exists between sleep and many cognitive functions such as attention and memory. Executive functioning skills like planning and following directions are also heavily impacted by the amount of sleep that children get. Our brain’s amygdala, the emotional processing center, is highly sensitive to sleep deprivation. There are many cognitive gains simply by increasing and monitoring your child’s sleep habits and patterns.
5. Teach Children Advocacy
Perhaps the most important tool we can teach our children is the ability to self-advocate, or let adults know of their physical, social, or academic needs. Physical needs include being tired or hungry, needing to use the restroom, or feeling ill, for instance.
Here are some ways you can teach and encourage advocacy with your child:
- Physical advocacy: Allow your child to order at restaurants; encourage eye contact.
Academic advocacy: If a problem with a teacher arises that can be solved via email, have a young child dictate an email to you by typing in the words. Or have an older child write the email and get your approval before sending.
- Social advocacy: Practice role-plays or one-liners with your child. A favorite activity of mine is practicing “assertive comebacks” and “I-Messages.” Great resources for this are the bibliotherapy book, Simon’s Hook, Dr. Borba’s website, and this short video by Rosalind Wiseman.
- Help your children think through a problem by asking open-ended questions such as: “What do you want to happen? How do you think [the other person] feels? What do you think you’ll do first? What do you think [the other person] will say?” Then, role-play the negotiation with your children before they make their official attempt.
6. Create Quality Time
Last, but not least, is to make time for quality time this school year. Quality family time has been proven to have positive effects for children and parents such as increased well-being, a sense of belonging, and a positive influence on children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development as well as their later-in-life choices. Starting a new school year is an adjustment that comes with busy, different schedules and routines. However, planning and creating quality time with children is a necessity for their overall happiness and wellbeing.
Some quality time ideas that you can use this year include sitting down for family dinner (without electronic devices), going on a parent-child outing, family game nights, creating/enjoying a shared hobby, and regular movie nights.
About Christina Heath, M.Ed., LPC-S, NCC
Christina Heath is the Lower School Counselor at St. Martin’s Episcopal School. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor-Supervisor (LPC-S), a National Certified Counselor (NCC), and is trained in Play and Art Therapy which she utilizes with children of all ages. Christina is also a counselor at the Challenges Summer Program. A New Orleans native and mother of two children, she has a private practice located in Harahan and is earning her doctorate degree in Counselor Education and Supervision.