Taming Middle School Madness: Getting Your Student Off to the Right Start

As September draws near, the lazy days of summer and joys of vacations and summer camps will soon be replaced with tweens and teens needing to manage the academic demands of middle school. This means balancing time with friends, extracurricular teams and activities, and schoolwork. Yes, schoolwork! Children everywhere are anticipating long hours of homework and time spent studying for exams. Implementing good habits early in the year will help improve academic performance and reduce stress at home. Here are some tips to share with your child to help get them off to a great start.

BoyLockerTransitions
Expect the initial transition back to school to be an adjustment period. Even if your child is returning to the same school, they will need to learn a new class schedule, understand the expectation of a new set of teachers, and respond to increasing academic demands. Listen to your child, be supportive, validate their feelings, and reinforce their ability to cope and problem-solve.

Re-establish routines
It is helpful to re-establish school year routines even before school starts. Unless your teen is used to getting up early for a job or camp, help them to reset their body’s internal clock and adjust to an earlier bedtime and rise time. Teen bodies are growing and changing. It is essential that they get ample sleep for adequate growth, to power down their bodies and brains, and to consolidate learning. The average 12-18 year old requires 8 ½ to 9 ½ hours a day of quality sleep, though some will need more. Fuel those bodies with a healthy breakfast. Also, the start of the school year is the perfect time to review existing family rules, discuss if they should be modified or if new ones should be added. These may include:

  • Completing homework
  • Texting and screen time
  • Weekday time with friends and curfews
  • Morning routines
  • Packing lunches
  • Family chores

Communication
Your child may be getting older and more independent but parents still need to be involved in their children’s school lives; albeit, in ways that are developmentally appropriate for teens. Communicate with your child’s school, teachers, and guidance counselors about your child’s progress. No news is not necessarily good news. Be proactive, email school staff occasionally to get student updates that go beyond final grades. Ask specific questions rather than simply, “How is my child doing?” Questions may relate to homework understanding and completion, class participation, attention and concentration, preparation and organization, specific skill development, on task behavior, learning strengths or weaknesses, or other information that you wish to know about your child. Use the opportunity to share with staff, challenges that your child may be having with school, social, health, or family events.

Self-advocacy
Encourage your child to reach out to teachers and make a connection. If they don’t understand an assignment, asking for clarification sooner rather than later is always the best bet. Explain that teachers are interested in helping children grow and learn. They want to help out a student that is engaged, participatory, and asks for clarification.

Time to get organized!
Remind your teen of the benefits of being organized. With organization, homework gets done faster and they earn better grades. There is also more free time for sports, video games, the arts, and socializing with friends, which all leads to less stress at home.

  • Take two. Take two minutes every day to organize papers. Before beginning homework, have your child take the first two minutes to clean out their bag and sort them into folders so that everything is organized.
  • Time management. This is a great age to have teens work on time management. Have your child estimate how much time is needed to complete each assignment. Be realistic! It’s better to block off more time than less. Now write it down. Prioritize earliest deadlines first. Break down longer projects and spread the hours out over the available number of days. Have your child build in break times that will prevent them from becoming frustrated, overwhelmed, bored, or tired. A 10-minute break per hour of completed homework is a good guideline. Stick to the schedule and do not get lost during breaks. Set a timer if needed. Compare actual versus anticipated work time to assess if more or less time is needed when planning assignments in the future.
  • The traveling desk. Help teens have materials handy in their backpacks so that they do not have to look for pens, pencils, paper, sharpeners, highlighters, post-its, and other regularly used supplies when they are ready to begin homework. Create a traveling desk that moves with them so that they can complete their work and immediately pack it back up for the day.
  • Organized notebooks. Recognize if your child does best with one large binder separated by subject (fewer places to lose things) or single-subject binders that promote visual organization. Two-pocket folders should be used for to do/done organization. Color-coding helps visual learners. Regularly clean out binders, removing old work and storing it in subject-specific folders at home for future reference.
  • Plan it! Schools often require that students use planners to write down their homework. Planners allow a student to see a full week and month at a glance. Frequently, there is too much going on in middle school for kids to remember it all. A planner, if used daily, helps students remember due dates as well as activities and appointments. Today’s technology provides teens with apps if they prefer.
  • Locker set up. Instead of opening up the school locker and not being able to find binders, books, and gym clothes, set up the locker with shelves or a locker ladder. Encourage your child to have separate shelves for their morning and afternoon classes so that it is easy to grab and go once they get to school and after their lunch period.

Resources
The following websites provide descriptions of available apps for time management, file organization, study skills, writing tools, and more.

Learning Works For Kids

National Center For Learning Disabilities

SmartButScattered2Smart but Scattered Teens: The “Executive Skills” Program for Helping Teens Reach Their Potential
by Richard Guare, Ph.D., Peg Dawson, Ed.D., Colin Guate (2012)

 

For more information about helping your student develop good organization, time management, and study habits so that he/she can meet with academic success, contact: info@westchsterchildtherapy.com