A New Year and new semester is upon us. It’s a great time to re-energize and refresh routines for the entire family. Many children struggle to stay organized, manage a hectic schedule, and complete the large volumes of homework that are now the norm in schools. If your child and family are experiencing a mid-year slump, here are some tips for renewed school motivation and organization. I’ve tailored these to the elementary and middle school ages, so check back next week for tips geared toward teens and college students!
Establish a Routine
By doing the same thing in the same sequence every (or most) days, your child will be able to develop routines that make daily tasks easier to manage. Having a routine also makes it easier for your child to keep track of materials and assignments, manage their work schedule, and understand and meet expectations, which increases self-confidence and decreases anxiety.
Here are some tips for creating a routine.
- Try to create 1 or 2 routines that involve the entire family. A morning (or evening) routine, such as eating breakfast together, can ensure that you have daily time together as a family. Create a homework folder that “lives” in your child’s backpack and check it together each night.
- A morning routine is particularly helpful as it can help a child begin to learn a set of steps for getting out of the house on time independently. If you know your family has breakfast at a certain time each morning, set aside part of that time to go over any paperwork that was sent home in your child’s backpack.
- Set reasonable expectations. Younger children may need verbal and visual reminders (a hanging checklist on their door) about what they need to do, or a set of bins by the door that corral backpacks, shoes, and lunch boxes. As your child grows older, slowly increase the tasks that they are expected to complete independently.
- By establishing regular routines, troublesome tasks such as keeping track of lunch boxes or signing paperwork from school can become second-nature.
Add Incentives if Needed
If your child has particular difficulty getting started with their homework, they may benefit from some training with simple rewards (a sticker or small daily privilege) to increase their motivation and train a new behavior. Here is a great article by a teacher that provides steps about how to use a short-term reward system to help your child get started without nagging. The objective is to set a reasonable goal (e.g. for your child to start homework by a certain time each day without being asked) and award a sticker each day for success. You will need to monitor your child’s progress and provide consistent rewards in the first couple weeks. Over time, you can slowly wean off the rewards and your child will be better able to carry out the routine regularly as an expectation.
Coordinate with Teachers
If, after trying some of the suggestions above, your child continues to have difficulty with tasks such as bringing home materials, remembering assignments, or starting homework each night, try asking the teacher for support. Your child’s teacher has likely encountered this many times and will have tips/tricks that work best and integrate with her classroom systems. For instance, your child’s teacher may have a website or file sharing system where she posts a list of daily homework assignments. Or, she may suggest coordinating your child’s reward system between home and school (e.g. the teacher could award a bonus sticker each day for returning completed homework).
Your child’s teacher may also have particular insight into what might be the cause of his/her struggles. Some children dawdle on homework because they don’t know how to do the problems. Check in with your child’s teacher about their observations and how to get your child extra help, if needed.
Next week, we’ll discuss tips for helping your older child stay motivated!