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Start the School Year Right

Tips to Start Your Kids Off On the Right Foot This School Year

The start of a new school year is full of emotions for families. Kids are excited about new clothes, seeing classmates and extracurricular activities. Parents are proud to see kids reach another milestone and looking forward to new experiences for growing children.

But the school year can bring about challenges that leave kids and parents anxious. Here are some ideas on getting kids off to a good start.

Kids Need Their ZZZs

Sufficient sleep is essential for proper brain function. When kids are sleep deprived it interferes with memory, attention and learning. Insufficient sleep can also adversely affect health. It contributes to type 2 diabetes in children and teens. For additional tips, see callouts on the following page.

Balance is Essential

During the school year, kids have a lot on their plate. In addition to school, they have family, friends, homework, chores, extracurricular activities, and perhaps a part-time job.

But balance is essential to a child's wellbeing. Imbalance can come from too many extracurricular activities. Parents shouldn’t think they're not doing their job if their kids aren't always on the go. Because kids want to make their parents happy and proud of them, kids often don't speak up when they feel overwhelmed. Structured activities provide valuable benefits, but kids still need free time to play and socialize. When kids lack balance in their lives, it causes stress, sleeplessness and suboptimal functioning.

Pay Attention to Emotional Health

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 20 percent of adolescents have a mental health condition. A significant percentage of younger kids also experience mental disorders. Conditions range from anxiety and depression to attention deficit disorder, and in the later teens, bipolar and schizophrenia.

School success is strongly tied to kids' emotional wellness. When a child exhibits behavioral changes, parents often assume it's just a phase.

Child and family therapist Donna M. Carollo says when a child or teen "exhibits symptoms of depression for over a month, it's time to seek professional help." Carolla says the signs to watch for that could indicate depression or another mental illness include "a child wanting to socially isolate, exhibiting excessive fatigue, a change in appetite, a lack of desire to do any of the fun things they used to do, or a sudden drop in academic performance."

Drugs and alcohol use may also be symptoms of a mental health condition. If you suspect your teen is misusing or abusing substances, intervention is crucial. You can make an appointment with a mental health care professional or contact an addiction treatment center for help.

Limit Cell Phone Use

According to a 2018 survey by Pew Research Center, more than half of kids between ages 13 and 17 worry they spend too much time on cell phones. Just over half also say they've taken steps to reduce their use; 57% percent have made efforts to limit their time on social media and 58% limit video games.

Cell phone addiction has become a growing problem among adolescents. Carollo says: “Something is considered an addiction when the chosen behavior causes an individual to suffer in many other valued areas of their life.” She cautions, however, that “a parent's values and a child's values don't always sync. If the cell phone is interfering with face-to-face family and friend time, studying, sleep, or exercise” it's time for parents to enforce some guidelines.

To gain kids' cooperation, ask them to help create new rules. Also, allow your adolescent an hour or two of daily phone time because socialization is an integral part of teen development.

At night, however, make sure phones are outside of bedrooms. Other helpful rules include no phones during mealtime, and chores and homework are completed before kids can have their phones. Also, set consequences for breaking rules. Loss of a cell phone for a specified period is an appropriate measure.

Get Academic Help

If your child has struggled academically or grades begin to suffer, they may need help. Any of the above issues can lead to academic problems.

Some kids have difficulty retaining information, understanding concepts, or have a different learning style. Also, learning disabilities can affect kids of all intelligence levels.

If your child is falling behind in one or more subjects, talk to their teachers or the school principal. Public schools are required to provide an assessment upon request. If your child attends a private school that doesn't offer assessments, you may be able to request one from your public school district.

Whatever the reason for your child's academic difficulties, there are ways to help. First, establish a regular homework time. Also, set up a quiet homework area free of distractions with a desk and comfortable chair. Kids' rooms have too many distractions.

Also, consider a tutor. Some schools offer free one-on-one or afterschool group tutoring. Another option is to ask a trusted family member, neighbor, or friend who might be interested in helping. You can find free online video tutorials at KhanAcademy.org as well. Also check with nearby tutoring services or visit TakeLessons.com or Care.com to find local tutors.

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