Parental Guidance

Summer vacation is coming to a close and the kids have a closetful of freshly purchased fall clothes, but is your family really ready to head back to school? We talked to several experts to find out what steps parents can take to set their children up for a successful school year. Their advice—which includes everything from creating a quiet study space to establishing a trusting relationship with your child’s teacher—just might make this school year the best yet!

Organize, Organize, Organize

Every parent knows that beginning the school year with an organized home is one thing, while keeping it that way is quite another. We spoke with NYC-based personal organizer Maeve Richmond, who offers the following tips for devising and maintaining an organizational system that will carry you through the school year:

Don’t look for a solution in a store. “No beautiful box is going to manage your clutter,” Richmond warns. Before shopping for ready-made organizational systems, Richmond suggests families take a close look at their family’s schedule, home life and needs in order to devise a system that works for them.

Get the kids involved. Richmond encourages parents to harness what she calls “kid power” by including them in the process and letting them make decisions about how and where things are kept. “Kids love responsibilities, so involve your kids to organize whenever possible,” she says.

Create a desk space and a cubby space. Create a desk space where your child can complete homework and store writing, artwork and other assignments he or she brings home. Richmond also suggests including a cubby space in your home where kids can store incoming and outgoing items. In addition to giving kids a sense of their own space, cubbies help to make the connection between home and school feel more seamless.

Have a family meeting. Sit down as a family to discuss the new system and come up with a realistic plan for maintaining it. Richmond suggests setting a common goal, such as going on a family vacation, to encourage children (and parents, too) to keep their spaces organized.

Set up a functional homework area. Keep the homework space stocked with a few basic items: pencils, pens, paper. Most importantly, Richmond says, make sure the space you create is quiet, with as few distractions as possible.

—Ashley Troost

Create A Family Routine

Children encounter a
host of new experiences and stresses during the school year, so being
able to count on a family routine at home—one that is “predictable,
reliable and guides your way,” is invaluable, says Michelle Asher Dunn,
parent coordinator and specialist in child and adolescent development.
Dunn offers these tips for creating a healthy home routine:

When creating a routine, take your child’s age into account. In other words, children
grow from having a routine created for them to understanding and owning
it. “From kindergarten through third grade, the routine has to be based
on practical matters that are decided by mom and dad,” Dunn explains.
“Between 8-11 years old, the child has internalized the routine and the
routine is now based on the child’s own understanding of what they need
to do.”

Keep your child’s entire day in mind. Remember that
children need unstructured time to play, relax and decompress. Sports,
music, art classes and other extracurricular activities can be great
additions to your child’s weekly schedule, but try not to overload them.

Provide guidance for children under 13. “A 10-year-old cannot
retain the rhythm of the routine by themselves, therefore the parents
have to help them,” Dunn says. She suggests parents have regular
conversations with their children to go over their schedule and
responsibilities for the week.

Display the family schedule on a large whiteboard. Having a visual
aid will help children feel more in control over their routine. Dunn
suggests parents colorcode the schedule to make it easy for children to
read and comprehend.

—Ashley Troost

Set Realistic Goals—And Communicate Them To Your Kids

Before the first day of
school, think strategically about areas in which you’d like to help your
child grow—not just academically but behaviorally and socially as well.
Here’s what Dunn suggests to parents looking to set manageable goals
and help their children achieve them:

Set short, concrete goals. “The longer the goal,
the bigger the failure rate,” Dunn says, especially with young children.
Instead, set weekly goals, such as making their own bed each morning or
getting their backpack ready each evening.

The goal is never the grade. Telling your
child to get all A’s is never a good idea, Dunn says. Instead, ask them
to study for 20 minutes or read a book to you. “The goal is not the
grade, but how your child gets there,” she says.

Help your child be successful from the beginning. From September
until Thanksgiving, Dunn maintains, parents should focus on making their
kids feel successful by encouraging them to meet short-term goals. When they’ve worked hard
to achieve their goals, share their successes with friends and
relatives, as a feeling of accomplishment is a huge motivator for
children. “Once your child feels successful, it becomes
self-fulfilling,” Dunn says.

Never offer a child a present for completing their goal. “Bribing your
child to do the ordinary is a road to perdition, because money and gifts
don’t help a child develop inner self-esteem,” Dunn says. However, she
notes, if your child has worked hard to overcome a particularly
difficult challenge, such as a learning disability, offer them something

—Ashley Troost

Get Involved At School

Many parents want to be
involved at their children’s school—both to improve the school and to
stay in the know when it comes to their child’s education—but feel they
are too busy to be involved in any meaningful way. But Mary DiPalermo,
an Upper West Side mom of three and co-president of the PTA at The
Center School, says even the busiest of parents can play an important
part in the life of their child’s school. “Help is always
welcome,” DiPalermo says. “Every parent has a skill they can bring to
the table.”

While volunteering in the local Parent Teacher Association
(PTA) is the classic avenue for parental involvement, it is also a good
place to start when looking for other ways to help out, like writing for the school newsletter or maintaining the PTA website. Parents can contact their PTA executive board or school office to find out more about their school’s needs.

Beyond raising funds for a myriad of enrichment opportunities that are outside a school’s basic budget, DiPalermo notes that serving on a PTA provides parents with an opportunity to teach volunteerism by example: “It’s important for kids to see that we are connected to a community.”

— Elisabeth Frankel Reed

Work With Your Child’s Teacher

In order to ensure success throughout the school year, parents need to establish an open, positive relationship with their child’s teacher, and make it a priority to work with their child at home to reinforce the work being done in the classroom. We asked local educators Nancy Arcieri, Lynn Bernstein, Caroline Gaynor, Jon Goldman and David Lebson to share their thoughts on how parents can work with teachers to best support their kids.

Remember That You’re A Team. “I believe that a child’s education rests on a tripod of teacher, child, and parent,” says Lebson. “If any one of those legs is missing, it’s going to be a challenge. If two are gone, the kid’s not going to succeed. It’ll be a miracle.”

Recognize Your Role.
Often parents assume, incorrectly, that helping their child learn is solely the job of the teacher. “A perfect example is summer curricula—parents say, ‘What can you do to make sure that my child reads over the summer?’” says Goldman. “I’m very straightforward; the answer is ‘nothing.’ It is completely up to you.”

Use Technology As A Tool. “I have kids for whom technology means Gameboys, Wiis—pacifiers, stuff to keep the kids out of their parents’ hair,” Bernstein says. “Other parents set up the computer for play, research, and games. That’s technology as a tool, not a pacifier.”

It’s Okay Not To Make All A’s. “It’s okay to be average at some things,” Goldman says. “Some kids earn predominantly A’s and B’s, and then there’s that one C. The parent comments that this is unacceptable, why hasn’t the teacher noticed that my child is at risk? I say, at risk of what, of being on grade level? Because that’s what a C means.” Arcieri agrees. “Parents need to see reality for what it is and to not focus on the negative,” she says. “When a kid’s report card has eight A’s and then a C , for a parent to look at the C and say, ‘What is going on here?’ is just devastating.”

Give Authentic Praise. Praise “needs to be honest, tied to achievement, and not hyperbolic or false,” says Bernstein. Goldman agrees, adding, “When a child shows you a piece of artwork or a story, rather than saying, ‘Oh, that’s beautiful!’ ask him questions: ‘I see you used a lot of green. Tell me why?’ It’s really almost magical.”

Appreciate Your Child’s Teacher. After all, teachers spend most of their students’ waking hours with them, and they play an important part in shaping your child. “Teachers grow to love your child,” Arcieri says. “We are in the position of raising children—it’s just in a different space. And we care deeply about them.” And, adds Gaynor, when it comes to parental involvement, teachers can use all the help they can get. “I like working with parents,” she says. “It makes my job not just easier, it makes it better. Parents have a wealth of knowledge that I don’t have.”

–Adapted from “What Parents Can Learn From Teachers,” by Helen Zelon and Laura Zingmond, New York Family, August 2008.

Saying Goodbye

your child off to nursery school or kindergarten for the first time?
Here are a few ways to ease his separation anxiety—and yours:

Do A Little Preschool Prep. Suzie
Newman, director of the nursery school at Rodeph Sholom, suggests
visiting the school with your child shortly before it starts, and
talking about school a week or so beforehand. Your child might want to
bring along familiar toy, or perhaps a backpack chosen with Mom or Dad,
on their first day.

Convey Your Confidence In The Situation. When
the teacher suggests it’s time for adults to leave, don’t prolong your
goodbye. Instead, your exit should be clean and quick, much like ripping
off a Band-Aid, explains Jean Kunhardt, director of Soho Parenting,
which offers counseling and support groups for parents.

Keep It Together, Mom! While
most of the focus is on the child during separation, it’s not uncommon
for the process to stir up apprehension in parents, too. Parents whose
children are struggling with separation anxiety should consider whether
they themselves are doing or feeling anything that might be exacerbating
the situation. If you’re trembling inwardly, try not to let it show. “Children
can read your gut,” says Jean Mandelbaum, the nursery school director
of All Souls School on the Upper East Side. “They know your body

–Adapted from “The Long Goodbye,” by Elicia Brown, New York
Family, September 2007.