Q&A with Lovern Moseley, PhD
With students of all ages going back to school, Lovern Moseley, PhD, a licensed child & adolescent psychologist, offers advice for parents and their children on how to start the school year off on the right foot.
Q. As the new school year approaches, what are some of the anxieties students of all grade levels deal with?
A. There are some kids who are go-getters, they love adventure and meeting new people, and are able to face challenges head on. And there are some who struggle with meeting new people, including other students and teachers. For kids heading to school for the first time, being away from their primary caretakers can be a bit scary for young children. For some of the more seasoned students, there are concerns with the strength of their friendships and whether they will be included or left out of peer interactions. A history of bullying can also prove to increase anxiety about returning to school. Another area of concern is around learning issues. Many times the anxiety can become so severe that children can begin to refuse to attend school.
Q. How can students start the year off on the right foot?
A. Start the year with a positive attitude and an outlook that this is going to be a great year. Parents can help children with this by being enthusiastic about the start of the year.
- Be open to making new friends.
- Get enough rest each night. Children should be getting between 10-12 hours of sleep each night. It is also best to maintain the same sleep schedule throughout the week, including weekends.
- Have complete and healthy meals.
- Make time to engage in physical activity, get involved in a sport or other extracurricular activity – this helps them to make connections with peers of the same age.
- Make sure that children have all the supplies they will need for school. Schools oftentimes have a school supply list posted on their websites, or they have lists posted at stores like Staples and Office Depot with the necessary supplies for each grade level.
- Complete all assignments. Starting in middle school, children and parents have online access to their grades and assignments. Make sure that you obtain access codes early on so that you are able to keep track of progress.
It is important to have established expectations that are communicated to your children in advance in order to address or avoid power struggles later on, particularly around cell phones, video games and other media usage.
Q. How important is a daily routine for both students and adults?
A. Having a daily routine is extremely important for students and adults. Routines enable families to reduce stress, improve organization and time management. Simple tasks like checking your child's backpack for the evening's assignments or notices allows the family to plan the course of the evening based on how involved a homework assignment might be. Making sure that everything is returned to the backpack, and placing it near the door reduces the stress of scrambling for items in the morning when everyone is trying to get out of the house. Maintaining regular routines for simple tasks allows everyone to know what to expect and reduces nagging, and it can increase opportunities to build independence in children.
Another helpful routine / task is to keep a calendar of all of the upcoming events or appointments for your family in a centralized location. Some families use a large calendar on the wall, or they set up a Google calendar so that they can keep track of upcoming events and assignments.
Q. How do you get the "night owls" to unplug, turn off the TV, or get them to finish their homework earlier in the night?
A. It is important to have established expectations that are communicated to your children in advance in order to address or avoid power struggles later on, particularly around cell phones, video games and other media usage. It is very easy for children to get lost in their media devices to the detriment of the things that should be prioritized, including homework. For elementary and middle school kids, having them involved in an afterschool program that provides homework help will assist in providing space for them to get some, if not all, of their homework completed before arriving home.
- Collaborate with your child on their goals for the school year and implement rewards like increased media time for meeting those goals/milestones.
- Having an open, well lit and quiet space away from the television to complete homework is helpful.
- Kids will need access to the Internet to complete some assignments and for research during school, so it is difficult to be completely unplugged. Having the computer/laptop in an open space that can be monitored will also reduce distractions and the temptation to be on unrelated sites.
- Restricting data usage during sleeping hours can be helpful in ending late night texting and web browsing. Many cell phone providers have parental controls that will allow you to monitor/restrict usage.
- Creating a family rule that cell phones are turned over to parents at night also reduces that tendency to be up all night on the phone/laptop/tablet.
If the struggles your child has been experiencing have gotten worse and are more difficult to manage, don't hesitate to seek professional help. You can reach out to the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Department at Boston Medical Center to request an evaluation by calling our Intake Line at 617-414-4561. If you are concerned about your child's academic progress and/or difficulty learning, you can request a school evaluation to determine if he/she is eligible for special education services. More information on the special education process in Massachusetts can be found on the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education website at http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/.