5 Steps to A Great School Year

Adolescent and Family Therapist Yshai Boussi, L.P.C. joined us today to help get our teens ready to have a great school year.

5 Steps to a Great Year
As a family, we get tremendous joy from our garden this time of year. The plump zucchinis and glossy orange pumpkin are gratifying. Our daughter, Leyah, loves picking the cherry tomatoes and reminding us that “red ones are good, green ones are yucky”. But having a beautiful garden requires planning and maintenance along the way. The process starts many months ahead of time. Before any planting occurs we have to do some planning and clarify some important questions like, what do we want to plant and where? Do we want to use starters or seeds? How much of each item do we want? Is our soil adequate and do we have room for what we want to do? Then we plant and provide regular maintenance to ensure that our little seedlings are getting enough of what they need to succeed.

The anticipation of school starting can be thought of as an empty garden bed at the end of winter. By taking the time now to plan and prepare with your teen for the inevitable issues and challenges that could come up, you will significantly increase the chances of a fruitful year. This month’s article is about how to do that. Summer is a period of calm for many families.  September signals a return to a frenetic life for teens and parents. The added stressors for kids often come from large academic work loads, more peer influence (positive or negative), extracurricular demands and not enough sleep. This cumulative pressure can spill over and lead to unintended consequences. You may experience this in the form of moodiness, blatant disrespect or chronic apathy. Their teachers, coaches and others may experience this as a drop in effort or grades, increased absences or tardiness and lower motivation. In turn, you may be at a loss for how to motivate and set effective limits with your teen around day to day issues like bed times, curfews, homework, time with friends or family, technology and negative behavior.

Anticipating these challenges and addressing them before they come up is a key way to help you and your teen have an enjoyable year. We understand that this is much easier said than done which is why we’re going to share a five step process to help you talk to your child about important issues during this upcoming school year.

Step 1: Tell your teen that you would like to get together with them to talk about the upcoming year. Be casual about it and let them pick the setting. It could be at home over their favorite dinner, at a coffee shop, on a hike or any other place where you can talk with relatively few distractions. Don’t ask them if they would like to do this, tell them that this is going to happen and they get to choose when and where within reason.

Step 2: Once together with your child, acknowledge any positive effort you’ve noticed from them over the summer. Then ask them how they’re feeling about going back to school. Are they looking forward to seeing their friends? Are they excited or frustrated about some of their classes and teachers? This step is designed to lower your child’s defenses and help them become more open to your input later. For this to work, you have to be genuine and sincere. Avoid expressing your opinions or judgment during this step.

Step 3: Ask them about their expectations for the year. This includes expectations about curfews, bedtimes, family time, downtime, extracurricular activities, driving privileges, grades or anything else that you think could come up as an issue. Try not to rehash old arguments, problems or behaviors from the past. Focus on understanding. Some of these will be hot button issues and your teen will expect a reaction from you. Don’t give them one, stay calm and show that you really get where they’re coming from even if you disagree.

Step 4: Share your needs and expectations. This should include making some time each week to spend with family, technology free time each day, a goal of 8-9 hours of sleep per night and a reasonable effort to deal with inevitable frustrations and conflicts in appropriate ways. Have your own bottom lines but also be open and willing to negotiate with your teen. Your teen should be relatively open to your perspective by now. It’s O.K. to say that you’re going to take a couple of days to consider what they’ve said before making some final decisions.

Step 5: Provide specific acknowledgment for their openness and willingness to talk with you about these issues in a mature and responsible way. Plan on casually following up within a week. Following up is incredibly important because it not only models the importance of follow through but also shows your teen that you took the talk seriously and are committed to supporting the efforts they are planning to make to have a good school year.

We hope that you’ve been having a wonderful summer and that the suggestions we’ve included in this article help you and your teen have a smooth transition back to school. Through planning, preparation, and ongoing maintenance, this may be the year that ends up as delightful as our garden.


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