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Back-to-school: 5 tips for parents to help children start the year off right

Bedtimes and setting alarms can help a child be successful

A boy sits at a desk with school supplies.
A boy sits at a desk with school supplies.

It doesn’t matter how old your child is, back-to-school time is a mixture of excitement and nerves for everyone, especially as we navigate through this coronavirus pandemic.

The end of summer typically gets capped each year with pristine school supplies, new clothes, open houses, team tryouts, meet-the-teacher events -- and then, eventually, we have the first day of the school year.

While things could, and probably will, look different this school year, this time of change is the perfect opportunity to implement some tweaks in habits, procedures and routines at home. So while the crayons are still sharp, the notebooks are still clean, and the backpacks are full of tissues and hand sanitizer, here are five ways that parents can help their child be successful this year in school.

1. Set limits

Has your child somehow managed to find six hours to play Fortnite in the evening but cannot find 10 minutes to do his or her homework? So many students arrive at school groggy and half-asleep because they were on some sort of screen all night. And there’s often a kid who is late to school more often than they are on time.

Creating consistent healthy routines for your child will help them be a better and happier student. Limiting screen time on school nights, taking away technology at a specific time, setting bedtimes and setting alarms are things that parents can do that will help their child be more successful each day.

2. Set time for study

While some teachers are doing away with assigning homework, it is necessary for some subjects or grade levels. In the older grades, some research shows a strong positive association between completing homework and higher academic achievement, partly because of the discipline, resilience and work habits it helps create.

By not setting aside time for homework, parents are setting their children up to be behind their peers and possibly suffer in their grades. Make sure your child has a designated place to do homework or to study without distractions.

Asking your child if they have homework, and helping them with it (if possible) helps you, the parent, stay involved in your child’s education, as well as keeps them accountable for the work they are being asked to do.

3. Set bedtimes

Making sure your child gets to bed at a decent hour can help them be healthy and alert students. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that children between the ages of 6 and 12 need nine to 12 hours of sleep each night, while kids ages 13 to 18 need eight to 10 hours per night.

However, about 60% to 70% of middle- and high-schoolers don’t get that many hours, and many of them struggle to wake up and get to school on time, and then stay awake through class, according to the CDC.

When a student is late to school or sleeps through class because they are exhausted or sleep-deprived, they are missing out on valuable learning time and could fall behind. Even teenagers need a bedtime -- especially teenagers! -- and though they might moan and groan about it, their minds and bodies will be better for it.

4. Set alarms

The most important thing parents can do is make sure their child gets to school on time every day. Chronic absenteeism is linked to delayed learning milestones, lower reading levels and higher rates of dropout, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Of course, there are times when you accidentally oversleep or your child is sick; these things happen. However, by setting up appointments outside school hours, taking vacations during school vacation periods and ensuring your child is awake in time to catch the bus, you can make sure your child is at school each day and on time. It’s not only important for them to stay caught up with their studies, but it helps you avoid penalties.

5. Feed them breakfast

Before your kids turn on the computer or head out the door to school, make sure they eat breakfast. According to the U.S. National Library National Institutes of Health, studies generally demonstrate that eating breakfast has a positive effect on children’s cognitive performance, particularly when it comes to memory and attention.

Start the year off right

As you begin stocking your cart with school supplies and don your child in their best back-to-school gear, it’s crucial to establish routines that show just how seriously school should be taken. You’ll want to establish routines that not only make life easier, but also help teach your child discipline and healthy habits, which can set your child up for success each day now and in the future.