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Back to School: How to Set Your Kids Up for a Happy, Successful Semester

Here are 5 simple things you can focus on to set your child up for a happy semester -- and maybe even the best school year, ever.
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Parents: can you remember that "back to school" feeling?

New notebooks and school clothes -- or well-loved hand-me-downs from older siblings. New teachers. New classes. Tingles of excitement (and nervousness) in your tummy.

While your child isn't an exact replica of you, it's likely that he or she is feeling quite a few of those same emotions. Your child might also be contending with additional sources of anxiety and stress that you never had to go through yourself. Like the fear of having an awkward, pimple-riddled photo strewn across social media. Or unprecedented levels of pressure to score high grades and win scholarships for top colleges.

Point being: going back to school can be an exciting--yet stressful--time for your kid, at any age.

As a psychologist, life coach, and family law attorney, I've heard some pretty unsettling stories about kids feeling totally overwhelmed and unprepared.

But when I say that heading back to school can be stressful, the keyword here is "can" -- not "must." With your help, it doesn't have to be such a rough transition. As a parent, you're the single most influential figure in your child's life, so there's a lot you can do!

Here are 5 simple things you can focus on to set your child up for a happy semester -- and maybe even the best school year, ever.

1. Routines. Ideally, you'll have your child adjust back into "school routines" a few weeks before school actually begins. This can create a much smoother transition from "summer mode" back into school, rather than a rocky, rude awakening on the first day of school! Instill routines like: waking up at an earlier hour, getting dressed, brushing teeth, bed time, and so on. Consistency is key. If your child divides his or her time between two households, ideally both co-parents should be on the same page--and schedule.

2. Rules. Setting and implementing fair rules and reasonable consequences for misbehavior does not make you a "mean" parent. Quite the opposite. Rules can keep your child safe, healthy, and focused, and unappealing consequences (like temporarily losing cell phone, video game or TV privileges) can provide strong motivation for your child to do what is right. Rules and consequences are powerful parenting tools. (If you're not sure how to set age-appropriate rules and consequences that make sense for your child's maturity level, this guidebook can help.)

Before school begins, have a conversation with your child where you explain the rules for the new school semester, including your child's household chores, curfew, homework requirements, and so on. Have your child verbally repeat back everything you've stated so you know they understand. Then record all the rules in writing using...

3. Charts. This tool is a parent's best friend! Make a note of your child's chores and responsibilities on a chart and put it somewhere where everyone can see it, like on the fridge. Have your child mark completed responsibilities (tidying his bedroom, taking out the garbage, finishing homework on time, etc.) with a checkmark, sticker, or gold star. Review your child's chart often (I suggest daily) to ensure that he or she is on track.

Exceptional, above-and-beyond behavior can be rewarded with a special treat, but avoid "bribing" your child to comply with the basic rules ("You can have ice cream later if you do your homework now"... is not a good lesson to enforce. You don't get a "reward" just for showing up to work on time, right? So don't teach your child that "rewards" happen just for covering the basics. That's not how the world works.)

4. Role modeling. As a parent, you set the bar, you set the tone, you lead the way! Your child looks to you for cues about how to behave. So if you want your child to enjoy a happy, healthy, low-stress school semester, that means it's vital for you to take good care of yourself, too. Make sure that you're honoring your own bedtime, eating nourishing food, exercising (without grumbling, if possible) and taking steps to keep your stress levels in check.

If you're dealing with pent-up negative emotions (grief, anger, betrayal, disappointment), I suggest thwacking a pillow with a hand towel that you have knotted on one end, screaming into a pillow (it will muffle the sound), pummeling a punching bag at the gym, or engaging in your preferred de-stressing ritual of choice! Discharging pent-up emotions in this way can help to prevent an unpleasant "blow out" episode in front of your kids ("How many #$%^ times do I have to tell you...!") Your child's anxiety and stress levels invariably mirror your own, so take good care of yourself so that you can be a calm, positive role model for your little one.

5. Love. It goes without saying, but your child needs unconditional love during the back to school season -- and every season. Again, avoid trying to "bribe" your child with sweets, toys and special treats to try to "convince" them to follow the rules, do their homework, apply themselves at school, or be "happier." Instead of bribes, give your child plenty of hugs, words of encouragement, quality time, and undivided attention. Focus on love -- not "stuff." (As the Reverend Jesse Jackson says, "Your children need your presence more than your presents.")

When children feel secure in their parents; love, they tend to be more successful, confident and responsible at school and at home, and tend to be more well adjusted later down the road in their adult-life, too. So pour on the love. You really can't "overdo" it!

To sum it up:

Gearing up to go back to school doesn't have to be overwhelming for you or your child. With some preparation, consistent routines, visual charts to track progress, and lots of love and encouragement, you can help your child to navigate this transition with ease and enjoy a phenomenal school year.

Above all, remember:

"Family is the first school for young children."
--Alice Sterling Honig

It may sound cliché, but your child's education really does begin at home, in your care. You are your child's most influential teacher, so it's up to you to model the values, beliefs and behavior that you want your child to adopt.

Your child cannot follow in your footsteps unless you are moving your own feet in the right direction. A happy, successful school year starts with you.


Dr. Suzanne Gelb is a clinical psychologist, life coach and family law attorney.

She believes that it is never too late to become the person you want to be. Strong. Confident. Calm. Creative. Free of all of the burdens that have held you back -- no matter what has happened in the past.

Her insights on personal growth have been featured on more than 200 radio programs, 200 TV interviews and online at TIME, Forbes, Newsweek, NBC's, The Daily Love, MindBodyGreen, and many other places.

Step into her virtual office at, explore her blog, book a private session, or sign up to receive a free meditation and her weekly writings on health, happiness and self-respect.You can also follow her on Twitter and FB.


Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always contact your health practitioner before beginning any new health or well-being practice for yourself or your family.