Before You Study, Ask for Help

The Wall Street Journal

That’s one of several ways students can better prepare themselves for tests in the new school year


What’s the best way to study for a test?

Many students will plunge into marathon study sessions this fall, rereading textbooks and highlighting their notes late into the night. The more effort the better, right?

Not so, new research shows. Students who excel at both classroom and standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT aren’t necessarily those who study longest. Instead, they study smart—planning ahead, quizzing themselves on the material and actively seeking out help when they don’t understand it.

Carl Wilke, a Tacoma, Wash., father of six children ages 4 to 22, sees the studying challenges that students face almost every school day. He coaches his children to pick out the main points in their notes rather than highlight everything, and to look for headings and words in bold type to find the big ideas in their textbooks.

Several months ago, his 18-year-old daughter Eileen tried to study for an advanced-placement exam. Eileen says she struggled with a practice test and realized that she didn’t know how to study. She asked her mother, Catherine, for help. Ms. Wilke sat with Eileen for two hours while Eileen used an answer guide for the test to explain why her answers were wrong on questions she’d missed, then discuss the correct ones. As they worked together, Eileen says, “I was teaching her while simultaneously teaching myself” the material—a study technique that enabled her to ace the test.


  • Find out what the test will cover and the kinds of questions it will include.
  • Start at least a few days before the test to plan how and when you will study.
  • Identify helpful resources such as practice tests or instructors’ office hours to assist with material you don’t understand.
  • Practice recalling facts and concepts by quizzing yourself.
  • Limit study sessions to 45 minutes to increase your concentration and focus.

High-achieving students take charge of their own learning and ask for help when they’re stuck, according to a 2017 study of 414 college students. Students who performed better sought out extra study aids such as instructional videos on YouTube. Those who asked instructors for help during office hours were more likely to get A’s, but fewer than 1 in 5 students did so, says the study by Elena Bray Speth, an associate professor of biology, and Amanda Sebesta, a doctoral candidate, both at St. Louis University in Missouri.

That activist approach reflects what researchers call self-regulated learning: the capacity to track how well you’re doing in your classes and hold yourself accountable for reaching goals. College professors typically expect students to have mastered these skills by the time they arrive on campus as freshmen.

Many students, however, take a more passive approach to studying by rereading textbooks and highlighting notes—techniques that can give them a false sense of security, says Ned Johnson, founder of Prep Matters, a Bethesda, Md., test-preparation company. After students review the material several times, it starts to look familiar and they conclude, “Oh, I know that,” he says. But they may have only learned to recognize the material rather than storing it in memory, leaving them unable to recall it on a test, Mr. Johnson says.

Top students spend more time in retrieval practice, he says—quizzing themselves or each other, which forces them to recall facts and concepts just as they must do on tests. This leads to deeper learning, often in a shorter amount of time, a pattern researchers call the testing effect.

Students who formed study groups and quizzed each other weekly on material presented in class posted higher grades than those who used other study techniques, says a 2015 study of 144 students. At home, Mr. Johnson suggests making copies of teachers’ study questions and having students try to answer them as if they were taking a test. Taking practice tests for the SAT and the ACT is helpful not only in recalling facts and concepts, but in easing anxiety on testing day, he says.

Retrieval practice often works best when students practice recalling the facts at intervals of a few minutes to several days, research shows.

Studying in general tends to be more productive when it’s done in short segments of 45 minutes or so rather than over several hours, Mr. Johnson says. He sees a takeoff-and-landing effect at work: People tend to exert more energy right after a study session begins, and again when they know it’s about to end.

No one can pace their studying that way if they wait until the night before an exam to start. Students who plan ahead do better.

Students who completed a 15-minute online exercise 7 to 10 days before an exam that prompted them to anticipate what would be on the test, name the resources they’d use to study, and explain how and when they’d use them, had average scores one-third of a letter grade higher on the exam compared with students who didn’t do the exercise, according to a 2017 study of 361 college students led by Patricia Chen, a former Stanford University researcher and assistant professor of psychology at the National University of Singapore. One participant’s plan, for example, called for doing practice problems repeatedly until he no longer needed his notes to solve them—a highly effective strategy.

Many teachers in middle and high school try to teach good study habits, but the lessons often don’t stick unless students are highly motivated to try them—for example, when they’re afraid of getting a bad grade in class, or scoring poorly on high-stakes tests such as the ACT or SAT.

When her daughter Deja was still young, Christina Kirk began to encourage her to identify major concepts in her notes and use retrieval practice when she studied. When as a teenager Deja resisted being quizzed by her mother, Dr. Kirk asked an older cousin to serve as a study partner.

Dr. Kirk also encouraged Deja to invite one or two of her more studious friends to their Oklahoma City home so they could quiz each other. After the girls worked for a while, Dr. Kirk took them to the movies. “You have to give them something positive at the end, because they’re still kids,” she says.

Deja, now 18, still makes use of study groups in her college courses.

15 Questions to Replace “How Was School Today?”


These questions will help you draw out important information from your kids.

How many times have you asked your child, “How was school today?” and been frustrated by the lack of response? As a parent, I’m guilty of asking my son this question all the time, even though I usually don’t get much in return.

Sometimes (to be honest), I haven’t had the energy for a real conversation. Other times, I just can’t think of what to ask. As a teacher, I have often wished that kids would share stories of the awesome things we were doing with their parents, but I couldn’t figure out how to make that happen.

Now that my son is in middle school—where communication from teachers is less than it was when he was in elementary school and more stuff is happening at school that I need to be aware of—I’ve identified a list of questions that draw out important information. I wish that when I was in the classroom I’d been able to offer this list to parents so that they could hear about what we were doing in our class.

The Questions

With slight wording modifications, these questions can work with children of all ages:

  1. Tell me about a moment today when you felt excited about what you were learning.
  2. Tell me about a moment in class when you felt confused.
  3. Think about what you learned and did in school today. What’s something you’d like to know more about? What’s a question you have that came from your learning today?
  4. Were there any moments today when you felt worried? When you felt scared?
  5. Were there any times today when you felt disrespected by anyone? Tell me about those moments.
  6. Were there times today when you felt that one of your classmates demonstrated care for you?
  7. Were there any moments today when you felt proud of yourself?
  8. Tell me about a conversation you had with a classmate or friend that you enjoyed.
  9. What was challenging about your day?
  10. What do you appreciate about your day?
  11. What did you learn about yourself today?
  12. Is there anything that you’d like to talk about that I might be able to help you figure out?
  13. Is there anything you’re worried about?
  14. What are you looking forward to tomorrow?
  15. Is there a question you wish I’d ask you about your day?

Tips for Asking Questions

How and when we ask these questions makes a big difference in the information we receive from our kids. First, you don’t want to ask all of these questions on the same day. You might ask one or two. After a while, you’ll figure out which ones elicit the most meaningful responses. You’ll want to ask during a time when you have the ability to focus so that your child feels they have your full attention. With my child—and in my household—dinner and driving in the car are optimal times for these conversations.

Now these conversations have become routine. My son knows that when we drive to school I’ll ask him what he’s looking forward to, if there’s anything he’s worried about, and if there’s anything he wants to talk about with me that I might be able to help him figure out.

More Suggestions

The following can help your conversations be positive and powerful:

  • Don’t interrupt. This is a good rule for any conversation, but especially if you want to get a lot of information out of a kid.
  • Ask for more. Simply say, “I’d love to hear more about that…” Or, “Can you expand on that a little?”
  • Ask about feelings. After a child describes an experience, ask, “How did you feel in that moment? What did you notice about your feelings?”
  • Validate feelings. Whatever your kid feels is normal and okay. Let them know that. Feelings are okay. Tell them this.
  • Tell them it’s not okay for teachers or kids to be unkind or mean. If they tell you a story about a teacher who yelled or disrespected them (regardless of what they said or did) let them know that it’s not okay for an adult to treat them that way. Same goes for how they are treated by other children.
  • Thank them for sharing with you. Always appreciate their honesty and willingness to share the highlights and bright spots, as well as the difficult moments. This will fuel their confidence in telling you more.

What questions bring about the most conversation between you and your kids?

Is the Drive for Success Making Our Children Sick?

Student wellness is constantly in our thoughts at Sacred Heart.  The topic is especially compelling as independent schools, especially in the Northeast, tend to be pressure cookers as students vie for admissions to the best colleges, and as the parents of our students tend to be hard working over-achievers.  As a school, we feel compelled to have outstanding programs in so many different areas – academics, arts, athletics and service.  Many of our students then feel the need to be involved in and excel in many different areas, which then leads to stress.
We have also worked hard at Sacred Heart to ensure we are promoting balance for our students.  The unique mission of a Sacred Heart school gives us “permission” to concentrate on other activities that promote wellness – such as faith, service, fun and the ability for our girls to be themselves without worrying about how boys will react.  Like the school in the article, we’ve implemented nightly homework limits and have eliminated homework over vacations.  Health classes, advisory activities, arts, sports and physical education also promote balance with our girls.  Despite these many efforts, we know some girls still find our environment to be rather stressful.  Our hope is that our small community and nurturing faculty will help us recognize those who are feeling pressure.  Parents should contact us immediately if they feel their daughter is experiencing an unhealthy amount of stress.
Vicki Abeles, January 2, 2016

STUART SLAVIN, a pediatrician and professor at the St. Louis University School of Medicine, knows something about the impact of stress. After uncovering alarming rates of anxiety and depression among his medical students, Dr. Slavin and his colleagues remade the program: implementing pass/fail grading in introductory classes, instituting a half-day off every other week, and creating small learning groups to strengthen connections among students. Over the course of six years, the students’ rates of depression and anxiety dropped considerably.

But even Dr. Slavin seemed unprepared for the results of testing he did in cooperation with Irvington High School in Fremont, Calif., a once-working-class city that is increasingly in Silicon Valley’s orbit. He had anonymously surveyed two-thirds of Irvington’s 2,100 students last spring, using two standard measures, the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale and the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. The results were stunning: 54 percent of students showed moderate to severe symptoms of depression. More alarming, 80 percent suffered moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety.

“This is so far beyond what you would typically see in an adolescent population,” he told the school’s faculty at a meeting just before the fall semester began. “It’s unprecedented.” Worse, those alarming figures were probably an underestimation; some students had missed the survey while taking Advanced Placement exams.

What Dr. Slavin saw at Irvington is a microcosm of a nationwide epidemic of school-related stress. We think of this as a problem only of the urban and suburban elite, but in traveling the country to report on this issue, I have seen that this stress has a powerful effect on children across the socioeconomic spectrum.

Expectations surrounding education have spun out of control. On top of a seven-hour school day, our kids march through hours of nightly homework, daily sports practices and band rehearsals, and weekend-consuming assignments and tournaments. Each activity is seen as a step on the ladder to a top college, an enviable job and a successful life. Children living in poverty who aspire to college face the same daunting admissions arms race, as well as the burden of competing for scholarships, with less support than their privileged peers. Even those not bound for college are ground down by the constant measurement in schools under pressure to push through mountains of rote, impersonal material as early as preschool.

Yet instead of empowering them to thrive, this drive for success is eroding children’s health and undermining their potential. Modern education is actually making them sick.

Nearly one in three teenagers told the American Psychological Association that stress drove them to sadness or depression — and their single biggest source of stress was school. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a vast majority of American teenagers get at least two hours less sleep each night than recommended — and research shows the more homework they do, the fewer hours they sleep. At the university level, 94 percent of college counseling directors in a survey from last year said they were seeing rising numbers of students with severe psychological problems.

At the other end of the age spectrum, doctors increasingly see children in early elementary school suffering from migraine headaches and ulcers. Many physicians see a clear connection to performance pressure.

“I’m talking about 5-, 6-, 7-year-olds who are coming in with these conditions. We never used to see that,” says Lawrence Rosen, a New Jersey pediatrician who works with pediatric associations nationally. “I’m hearing this from my colleagues everywhere.”

What sets Irvington apart in a nation of unhealthy schools is that educators, parents and students there have chosen to start making a change. Teachers are re-examining their homework demands, in some cases reviving the school district’s forgotten homework guideline — no more than 20 minutes per class per night, and none on weekends. In fact,research supports limits on homework. Students have started a task force to promote healthy habits and balanced schedules. And for the past two years, school counselors have met one on one with every student at registration time to guide them toward a manageable course load.

“We are sitting on a ticking time bomb,” said one Irvington teacher, who has seen the problem worsen over her 16 years on the job.

A growing body of medical evidence suggests that long-term childhood stress is linked not only with a higher risk of adult depression and anxiety, but with poor physical health outcomes, as well. The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study, a continuing project of the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente, shows that children who experience multiple traumas — including violence, abuse or a parent’s struggle with mental illness — are more likely than others to suffer heart disease, lung disease, cancer and shortened life spans as adults. Those are extreme hardships but a survey of the existing science in the 2013 Annual Review of Public Health suggested that the persistence of less severe stressors could similarly act as a prescription for sickness.

“Many of the health effects are apparent now, but many more will echo through the lives of our children,” says Richard Scheffler, a health economist at the University of California, Berkeley. “We will all pay the cost of treating them and suffer the loss of their productive contributions.”

Paradoxically, the pressure cooker is hurting, not helping, our kids’ prospects for success. Many college students struggle with critical thinking, a fact that hasn’t escaped their professors, only 14 percent of whom believethat their students are prepared for college work, according to a 2015 report. Just 29 percent of employers in the same study reported that graduates were equipped to succeed in today’s workplace. Both of those numbers have plummeted since 2004.

Contrary to a commonly voiced fear that easing pressure will lead to poorer performance, St. Louis medical school students’ scores on the medical boards exams have actually gone up since the stress reduction strategy was put in place.

At Irvington, it’s too early to gauge the impact of new reforms, but educators see promising signs. Calls to school counselors to help students having emotional episodes in class have dropped from routine to nearly nonexistent. The A.P. class failure rate dropped by half. Irvington students continue to be accepted at respected colleges.

There are lessons to be learned from Irvington’s lead. Working together, parents, educators and students can make small but important changes: instituting everyday homework limits and weekend and holiday homework bans, adding advisory periods for student support and providing students opportunities to show their growth in creative ways beyond conventional tests. Communities across the country — like Gaithersburg, Md., Cadiz, Ky., and New York City — are already taking some of these steps. In place of the race for credentials, local teams are working to cultivate deep learning, integrity, purpose and personal connection. In place of high-stakes childhoods, they are choosing health.

Dear Parent: If Your Child Left It Home, Don’t Bring It In


Here’s an interesting article…reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: “Never do for kids what they can do for themselves, and never do for kids what they can almost do for themselves.”  What do you think about this school’s policy?

A school in Seminole County, Fla., has a rule, clearly posted in the front office: “Attention students and parents: We do not accept items for dropoff such as lunches, backpacks, homework, sports equipment. Please plan accordingly.”

Lake Mary High School is bucking what it saw as a trend: parents coming to the rescue when their children (as children do) forgot what they needed for the day, and didn’t want to deal with the consequences. That sign caught the eye of Leslie Postal, an Orlando Sentinel reporter. “I’d just been at another high school and watched several parents come in with items their kids had forgotten,” she told me, via email, “and, to be honest, I’d recently run a notebook that my son had left in his room over to his high school. So the sign (and the policy behind it) struck me as interesting — and story worthy.” (Read High school cracks down on drop-offs of forgotten items for the principal’s rationale—and the initial reaction of parents to the no-rescue policy.)

Is the school micromanaging parents, or spot on? Motherlode readers (and writers) have long disagreed about whether a parent should deliver that which has been forgotten. Jessica Lahey, who writes the Parent-Teacher Conference here and is the author of “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed,” rather famously left her son’s forgotten homework on the table even though she was going to the school later that morning anyway.

“We had just been talking about how doing the work wasn’t enough,” she says. “It was his job to get it in his backpack and get it to school.” To her, that was a turning point for her son: He made a list that’s still on the fridge to remind him to take the things he needed in the morning.

In ‘Not Rescuing’ Our Kids Shouldn’t Mean Letting Them Flounder, Catherine Newman argued for a different approach — one that wouldn’t fly at Lake Mary High School. “The basic premise sounds right,” she writes of the idea (although not this specific policy). “Teach your children to take responsibility for themselves by letting them experience the natural consequences of their actions.”

But, “I’m thinking about the pound of flour I spilled on the floor recently, of Ben [her son] rushing in with a broom and his good nature. I picture him saying, instead, ‘Maybe next time you’ll be more careful’ and cringe.” Her proposed middle ground: “Not dependence, not independence, but something more like interdependence, where we acknowledge our mutual reliance, count on cooperation, and nurture generosity, compassion and charity.”

In our family, we straddle a line on this one. The odds are high that we wouldn’t be able or willing to deliver a forgotten item (two working parents, two different schools, one a half-hour away). Only one of the four children even has a phone to text a request. But if the stars align, as they do once in a while, we’ll help you out (and we’ll certainly remind you to grab whatever it is if we can see that you’ve forgotten it). Interdependence. Our children do sometimes point out that it is “not fair” that other people’s parents can drop things off, and perhaps that is part of the point of ruling it out all together (although it’s worth asking whether it’s the children whose parents save them every time who have the advantage, or the ones whose parents do not).

But it would be easy to say you won’t do it unless it’s convenient, and then somehow end up doing it an awful lot, unless (as in our family) circumstances make it all but impossible most of the time. A no-rescue policy would certainly simplify the whole thing. I would welcome it. Would you?

Follow KJ Dell’Antonia on Twitter at @KJDellAntonia or find her on Facebook and Google+.

There’s a Correlation Between a Student’s Level of Happiness and GPA

Because I’m Happy


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As policymakers, administrators, and teachers, we want the children in our classrooms to be happy, of course. But how much does their happiness really matter when it comes to learning? According to a new study by HGSE lecturer Christina Hinton, Ed.D.’12, the answer is clear: It matters a lot.

Hinton examined the interplay of happiness, motivation, and success in a K–12 setting, and she also looked at the school factors that support student happiness.

Using both quantitative and qualitative measures, she found that from elementary school to high school, happiness is positively correlated with motivation and academic achievement. She also found that the culture of the school and the relationships that students form with their teachers and their peers play an influential role in their happiness.

In order to conduct the study, Hinton collaborated with the St. Andrew’s Episcopal School near Washington, D.C., which educates students in grades K–12. “We developed surveys to collect data on students’ happiness and motivation,” Hinton says. “We also collected qualitative data on happiness and motivation to dig more deeply into the construct. In addition, we collected data on students’ grade point averages. We then analyzed this data to explore the relationships among happiness, motivation, and academic achievement.”

Her analysis found several key associations that open the door to further research on how schools can optimize students’ learning experiences. Among them:

  • Happiness is positively associated with intrinsic motivation (a personal drive to learn) for all students, and also with extrinsic motivation (outside sources like rewards, praise, or avoiding punishment) for students in grades K–3.
  • Happiness is also positively associated with GPA for students in grades 4–12.
  • Happiness and standardized test scores did not seem to be related, but further research is needed to confirm this.
  • Happiness is predicted by students’ satisfaction with school culture and relationships with teachers and peers.

The finding that happiness is positively correlated with GPA is significant, Hinton notes, because GPA provides a broader picture of academic achievement than standardized test scores, encompassing multiple types of abilities and the influence of social dynamics.

Moving past quantitative scores, the study examined the relationship between happiness and achievement from the students’ perspectives, as well as the source of the happiness that students report feeling in the classroom. “We asked the students what supports their learning, and then we coded the responses for themes,” says Hinton. “Students often reported that happiness, or positive feelings like enjoyment or fun, promotes learning.” They cited many reasons for their positive feelings, including feeling safe and comfortable at school and having secure relationships with their teachers and their peers.

These findings set the stage for important future research, Hinton says, as well as for exploring interventions that can successfully boost students’ overall happiness — and their performance in the classroom.

“In this study, we found that a network of supportive relationships is at the heart of happiness,” Hinton says. “If schools want to support student well being and achievement, they should take seriously nurturing positive relationships among teachers and students.”

A New Paradigm for Accountability: The Joy of Learning


Now that we have endured more than a dozen long years of No Child Left Behind and five fruitless, punitive years of Race to the Top, it is clear that they both failed. They relied on carrots and sticks and ignored intrinsic motivation. They crushed children’s curiosity instead of cultivating it.* They demoralized schools. They disrupted schools and communities without improving children’s education.

We did not leave no child behind. The same children who were left behind in 2001-02 are still left behind. Similarly, Race to the Top is a flop. The Common Core tests are failing most students, and we are nowhere near whatever the “Top” is. If a teacher gave a test, and 70% of the students failed, we would say she was not competent, tested what was not taught, didn’t know her students. The Race turns out to be NCLB with a mask. NCLB on steroids. NCLB 2.0.

Whatever you call it, RTTT has hurt children, demoralized teachers, closed community schools, fragmented communities, increased privatization, and doubled down on testing.

I have an idea for a new accountability system that relies on different metrics. We begin by dropping standardized test scores as measures of quality or effectiveness. We stop labeling, ranking, and rating children, teachers, and schools. We use tests only when needed for diagnostic purposes, not for comparing children to their peers, not to find winners and losers. We rely on teachers to test their students, not corporations.

The new accountability system would be called No Child Left Out. The measures would be these:

How many children had the opportunity to learn to play a musical instrument?

How many children had the chance to play in the school band or orchestra?

How many children participated in singing, either individually or in the chorus or a glee club or other group?

How many public performances did the school offer?

How many children participated in dramatics?

How many children produced documentaries or videos?

How many children engaged in science experiments? How many started a project in science and completed it?

How many children learned robotics?

How many children wrote stories of more than five pages, whether fiction or nonfiction?

How often did children have the chance to draw, paint, make videos, or sculpt?

How many children wrote poetry? Short stories? Novels? History research papers?

How many children performed service in their community to help others?

How many children were encouraged to design an invention or to redesign a common item?

How many students wrote research papers on historical topics?

Can you imagine an accountability system whose purpose is to encourage and recognize creativity, imagination, originality, and innovation? Isn’t this what we need more of?

Well, you can make up your own metrics, but you get the idea. Setting expectations in the arts, in literature, in science, in history, and in civics can change the nature of schooling. It would require far more work and self-discipline than test prep for a test that is soon forgotten.

My paradigm would dramatically change schools from Gradgrind academies to halls of joy and inspiration, where creativity, self-discipline, and inspiration are nurtured, honored, and valued.

This is only a start. Add your own ideas. The sky is the limit. Surely we can do better than this era of soul-crushing standardized testing.

*Kudos to Southold Elementary School in Long Island, where these ideas were hatched as I watched the children’s band playing a piece they had practiced.

Hookup Line. Carpool. Same Rituals, New School.

New York Times Motherlode Blog

Ann interesting article for new parents at CSH.


The "hookup" line.
The “hookup” line.Credit Mary Laura Philpott

Here in Nashville, the process known elsewhere as “car pool” — dropping off and picking up children at school — is referred to as “hookup.” So, instead of saying “the car-pool line,” folks here say, “the hookup line.” “See you at hookup,” fellow parents say. “Don’t be late for hookup,” teachers remind us.

As a new transplant to town, having just moved here over the summer with my family, I’m still thrown by the phrase. Every time I hear it, I think for a second: Hookup? My kids are in third and sixth grade: What sort of crazy swinger town is this?

Thankfully, it’s just a matter of semantics. Otherwise, car pool — sorry, hookup — works pretty much the same here as it did back in Atlanta. Pull forward; come to a complete stop; let your kids out or in; and whatever you do, don’t look at a cellphone. And that has surprised me. The sameness of things, I mean.

There is still plenty of newness to get used to, though. A hundred new names to learn. New buildings to navigate. New events that are traditions to others but totally foreign to my children. That’s tough for even the most resilient kids.

As we stood on the sidewalk of the children’s new school on new-family-orientation day, trying to get our bearings and remember which door to use, my 11-year-old son said for the first time since we moved, “I miss Atlanta.”

My 8-year-old daughter said, “I miss our old school.”

School is where a lot of life happens for kids. Seven hours a day, five days a week. Work, play, friendship, risks, heartbreaks, triumphs. This place was to be their new daytime world, and now they had to learn how it all worked. No wonder they suddenly felt nostalgic for a place where they already knew the people, the rules and the lay of the land. I felt it too, and I wasn’t even a student.

But as I sat on a folding chair and listened to the head of school speak to new parents, it struck me how familiar this experience was. Turns out, schools generally have the same messages for parents at the start of the year no matter where you are: Please follow the bus and car pool rules (hookup, I mean — I’m going to get it eventually, I swear). Please make sure your kids get a decent night’s sleep. Please fill out all the health forms and registration forms and other forms on time. Forms, forms, forms. Timeliness, timeliness, timeliness. If you can volunteer or support the annual fund, that would be really super.

Honestly, the only ones in the room who looked overwhelmed were the parents whose children were starting kindergarten — the ones who hadn’t yet been down this road or anything like it. In many ways, I had more of a clue than these people, who were stepping from the world of preschool and nap times and extra-chunky crayons to the world of big-kid school. If you count back to my first year with a kindergartner, I’m starting my seventh year of elementary school-age parenting.

That’s what the kids ended up discovering as well. During the course of each child’s classroom visit, I could see their shoulders relax, their smiles return. A classroom is a classroom. The desks may be a different shape and the chairs a different color, but they’re still for sitting down. Lockers, cubbies, whatever — you still have to keep your space neat. The teachers may be new faces, but they are all just as sweet and welcoming as any the kids have had.

There’s going to be unfamiliar stuff at some point — an adjustment period is a certainty, and I’m bracing for that — but for now, in this honeymoon period at the beginning when everything’s just basics, it’s not too wildly different from anything they’ve experienced before.

In the morning hookup line (I did it!) on their first full day, I said: “Remember, it’s not Mars. It’s just school. You know how to do school.” We did a little fist-bump before they hopped out of the car and repeated our daily mantra: Be brave. Be kind. Be wise. Same thing we’ve always said.

Mary Laura Philpott is a writer living (as of just recently) in Nashville. She is the editor of Musing for Parnassus Books, and her next book, “Penguins With People Problems”, will be published by Perigee Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, next year. She will be writing about her family’s transition to new schools and a new life in Nashville in “New In Town” through September 2014.

Back To School – Helping Kids Transition

Back to School

Whether their summer was jam-packed with activities or filled with complaints about being bored with nothing to do, kids often have a tough time making the back-to-school transition.

Battling the Butterflies

As with any new or potentially unsettling situation — like starting school for the first time or entering a new grade or new school — allow kids time to adjust. Remind them that everyone feels a little nervous about the first day of school and that it will all become an everyday routine in no time.

Emphasize the positive things about going back to school, such as hanging out with old friends, meeting new classmates, buying cool school supplies, getting involved in sports and other activities, and showing off the new duds (or snazzy accessories if your child has to wear a uniform).

It’s also important to talk to kids about what worries them and offer reassurance: Are they afraid they won’t make new friends or get along with their teachers? Is the thought of schoolwork stressing them out? Are they worried about the bully from last year?

Consider adjusting your own schedule to make the transition smoother. If possible, it’s especially beneficial for parents to be home at the end of the school day for the first week. But many working moms and dads just don’t have that flexibility. Instead, try to arrange your evenings so you can give kids as much time as they need, especially during those first few days.

If your child is starting a new school, contact the school before the first day to arrange a visit. And ask if your child can be paired up with another student, or “buddy,” and if you can be connected with other new parents. This will help both of you with the adjustment to new people and surroundings. Some schools give kids maps to use until things become more familiar.

To help ease back-to-school butterflies, try to transition kids into a consistent school-night routine a few weeks before school starts. Also make sure that they:

  • get enough sleep (establish a reasonable bedtime so that they’ll be well-rested and ready to learn in the morning)
  • eat a healthy breakfast (they’re more alert and do better in school if they eat a good breakfast every day)
  • write down the need-to-know info to help them remember details such as their locker combination, what time classes and lunch start and end, their homeroom and classroom numbers, teachers’ and/or bus drivers’ names, etc.
  • use a wall calendar or personal planner to record when assignments are due, tests will be given, extracurricular practices and rehearsals will be held, etc.
  • have them organize and set out what they need the night before (homework and books should be put in their backpacks by the door and clothes should be laid out in their bedrooms)

Although it’s normal to be anxious in any new situation, a few kids develop real physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches, associated with the start of school. If you’re concerned that your child’s worries go beyond the normal back-to-school jitters, speak with your child’s doctor, teacher, or school counselor.

Back-to-School To-Do’s

Parents themselves can be a little nervous about the first day of school, especially if they’re seeing their little one off for the first time or if their child will be attending a new school.

To help make going to school a little easier on everyone, here’s a handy checklist:

What to wear, bring, and eat:

  • Does the school have a dress code? Are there certain things students can’t wear?
  • Will kids need a change of clothes for PE or art class?
  • Do your kids have a safe backpack that’s lightweight, with two wide, padded shoulder straps, a waist belt, a padded back, and multiple compartments?
  • Do kids know not to overload their backpacks and to stow them safely at home and school?
  • Will your kids buy lunch at school or bring it from home? If they buy a school lunch, how much will it cost per day or per week? Do you have a weekly or monthly menu of what will be served?
  • Have you stocked up on all of the necessary school supplies? (Letting kids pick out a new lunchbox and a set of pens, pencils, binders, etc., helps get them geared up for going back to school.)

Medical issues:

  • Have your kids received all necessary immunizations?
  • Have you filled out any forms that the school has sent home, such as emergency contact and health information forms?
  • Do the school nurse and teachers know about any medical conditions your child may have, particularly food allergies, asthma, diabetes, and any other conditions that may need to be managed during the school day?
  • Have you made arrangements with the school nurse to administer any medications your child might need?
  • Do the teachers know about any conditions that may affect how your child learns? For example, kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) should be seated in the front of the room, and a child with vision problems should sit near the board.

Transportation and safety:

  • Do you know what time school starts and how your kids will get there?
  • If they’re riding the bus, do you know where the bus stop is and what time they’ll be picked up and dropped off?
  • Do you know where the school’s designated drop-off and pick-up area is?
  • Are there any regulations on bicycles or other vehicles, such as scooters?
  • Have you gone over traffic safety information, stressing the importance of crossing at the crosswalk (never between parked cars or in front of the school bus), waiting for the bus to stop before approaching it, and understanding traffic signals and signs?
  • If your child walks or bikes to school, have you mapped out a safe route? Does your child understand that it’s never OK to accept rides, candy, or any other type of invitation from strangers?

What About After School?

Figuring out where kids will go after school can be a challenge, especially if both parents work. Depending on a child’s age and maturity, you may need to arrange for after-school transportation and care.

It’s important for younger kids and preteens to have some sort of supervision from a responsible adult. If you can’t be there as soon as school’s out, ask a reliable, responsible relative, friend, or neighbor to help out. If they’re to be picked up after school, make sure your kids know where to meet you or another caregiver.

Although it might seem like kids who are approaching adolescence are becoming mature enough to start watching themselves after school, even kids as old as 11 or 12 may not be ready to be left alone.

If your kids or teens are home alone in the afternoons, it’s important to establish clear rules:

  • Set a time when they’re expected to arrive home from school.
  • Have them check in with you or a neighbor as soon as they get home.
  • Specify who, if anyone at all, is allowed in your home when you’re not there.
  • Make sure they know to never open the door for strangers.
  • Make sure they know what to do in an emergency.

To ensure that kids are safe and entertained after school, look into after-school programs. Some are run by private businesses, others are organized by the schools themselves, places of worship, police athletic leagues, YMCAs, community and youth centers, and parks and recreation departments.

Getting involved in after-school activities:

  • offers kids a productive alternative to watching TV or playing video games
  • provides some adult supervision when parents can’t be around after school
  • helps develop kids’ interests and talents
  • introduces kids to new people and helps them develop their social skills
  • gives kids a feeling of involvement
  • keeps kids out of trouble

Be sure to look into the child-staff ratio at any after-school program (in other words, make sure that there are enough adults per child) and that the facilities are safe, indoors and out. And kids should know when and who will pick them up when school lets out and when the after-school program ends.

Also, make sure after-school commitments allow kids enough time to complete school assignments. Keep an eye on their schedules to make sure there’s enough time for both schoolwork and home life.

Helping Homework

Love it or hate it, homework is a very important part of school. To help kids get back into the scholastic swing of things:

  • Make sure there’s a quiet place that’s free of distractions to do homework.
  • Don’t let kids watch TV when doing homework or studying. Set rules for when homework and studying need to be done, and when the TV can be turned on and should be turned off. The less TV, the better, especially on school nights.
  • If your kids are involved in social media, be sure to limit the time spent on these activities during homework time.
  • Keep text messaging to a minimum to avoid frequent interruptions.
  • Never do their homework or projects yourself. Instead, make it clear that you’re always available to help or answer any questions.
  • Review homework assignments nightly, not necessarily to check up, but to make sure they understand everything.

Encourage kids to:

  • develop good work habits from the get-go, like taking notes, writing down assignments, and turning in homework on time
  • take their time with schoolwork
  • ask the teacher if they don’t understand something

To ensure kids get the most out of school, maintain an open channel of communication with the teachers by e-mailing or talking with them throughout the school year to discuss your kids’ academic strengths as well as weaknesses.

Most of all, whether it’s the first day of school or the last, make sure your kids know you’re there to listen to their feelings and concerns, and that you don’t expect perfection — only that they try their best.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2013

If Your Child Was Bullied, When Did You Intervene and When Did You Stay Out?

The New York Times

Don’t forget our CSH mantra of “never worry alone.”

Rick Runion/The Ledger, via Associated Press A fund-raiser in Lakeland, Fla., for the family of Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide after being bullied for over a year.

By MICHAEL WINERIP Published: October 31, 2013

It is a very painful and scary thing for parents to learn that their child is being bullied. Though my four — now young adults — were relatively popular and athletic kids, I watched them go through bullying several times. It was one of the the harder problems I faced as a dad, and it’s the topic we are asking our readers to discuss this week: Do I intervene on behalf of my children or hold back and let them work out the problem themselves?

At times, it wasn’t until after the fact that I learned they were being bullied. And I think that’s probably true more often than not — our kids go through these things and never tell us. I know that was the case for me when I was a kid, as I wrote in a parenting column several years back. For me, the most painful bullying I suffered was emotional, not physical. When I was in junior high I was frozen out by my three closest friends, who, one day, for no apparent reason, stopped talking to me and never did again. When that happened, the last thing I wanted was for my parents to get involved. I feared if they did, I would be ostracized even more, as a little baby who needed Mommy and Daddy to fight my battles.

It would be nice if things worked out the way they do in those Hollywood blockbusters starring Bruce Willis. When one of my sons was being pushed around by a bigger kid in middle school, he popped the kid back, and that was the end of it. While I wasn’t aware of that situation until afterward, there have been times I have counseled them to do just that: hit the jerk back and shut him up. I know that a lot of readers will be horrified by that advice, and I also know that it is a lot easier to do in elementary school. By high school, teenagers can inflict terrible physical injury on one another.

In the case of my four, as was true for me, the most painful bullying was being frozen out or taunted. When I tried to discuss it with them, they didn’t want to, and the more I tried, the angrier they grew. Holding back caused me considerable anguish as a parent, but I did, and the problem was apparently worked out over time — all four are well-adjusted young adults. They have replaced the friends who turned on them with true friends. Which raises the question, when we get involved are we trying to save our kids or is it more about making ourselves feel better?

There are, of course, a million forms of bullying, and sometimes the worst thing adults can do is look the other way. In the most awful cases, we’ve seen teenagers use social media in such cruel ways that it has led to a classmate committing suicide.

The hopeful news is that in my lifetime, schools and law enforcement have become much more aware of the dangers of bullying and the need to be proactive. The bad news is it is still not enough.

I know from my own reporting that some of the cruelest bullying targets teenagers simply because they are gay, particularly boys who are effeminate.

Our question this week for our readers of Motherlode and Booming is not so much, “Should parents intervene or not intervene?” It’s, “If you think your child is being bullied, when and how should you intervene and when should you stay out of it?”

We’d like to hear your stories of how you handled your children’s bullying situations and how things worked out. We’d also welcome questions readers might have on problems they’re struggling with. Please share your thoughts in the comments section, and I’ll round up some of the most interesting answers and post them on Motherlode and Booming next Friday. Then it will be the New Parent’s turn to choose a topic.

To Help a Shy Child, Listen

The New York Times

Joyce Hesselberth

Toward the end of the summer, I was seeing a middle-school girl for a physical. The notes from a clinic visit last spring said she was a good student but didn’t talk enough in class. So I asked her: Is this still a problem for you?

I’m shy, she said. I’m just shy.

Should I have turned to her mother and suggested — a counselor? An academic evaluation? Should I have probed further? How do you feel in school, do you have some friends, is anybody bullying you?

Or should I have said: Lots of people are shy. It’s one of the healthy, normal styles of being human.

All of these responses, together, would have been correct. A child who is being bullied or bothered may be anxious about drawing attention to herself; a child who doesn’t ever talk in class may be holding back because some learning problem is getting in the way, making her self-conscious. So you do need to listen — especially to a child who talks less rather than more — and find ways to ask questions. Are you happy, anxious, afraid?

But shyness is also part of the great and glorious range of the human normal. Two years ago, Kathleen Merikangas, a senior investigator at the National Institute of Mental Health, and her colleagues published a study of 10,000 older children, ranging from 13 to 18 years old. “We found that about half of kids in America describe themselves as shy,” she told me.

Common though it may be, our schools — and our broader culture — do not always celebrate the reserved and retiring. “Children who are shy, who don’t raise their hand, who don’t talk in class, are really penalized in this society,” Dr. Merikangas said.

I have heard it said that temperament was invented by the first parent to have a second child — that’s when parents realize that children come wired with many of the determinants of disposition and personality. What worked with Baby 1 doesn’t necessarily work with Baby 2. The analysis of temperament has been a topic of discussion in pediatrics and psychology for decades.

“Temperament is the largely inborn set of behaviors that are the style with which a person functions, not to be confused with their motivation or their developmental status and abilities,” said Dr. William B. Carey, a clinical professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the author of “Understanding Your Child’s Temperament.”

Shyness reflects a child’s place on the temperamental continuum, the part of it that involves dealing with new and unfamiliar circumstances. And starting a new school year may be hard on those who find new situations more difficult and more full of anxiety. What most children need is time to settle in, support from parents and teachers, and sometimes help making connections and participating in class.

If a child is not more comfortable after a month or so, parents should look at whether more help is needed, said Anne Marie Albano, director of the Columbia University Clinic for Anxiety and Related Disorders. Treatment usually involves cognitive behavioral strategies to help the child cope with anxiety.

All ranges of temperament have their uncomfortable, or even pathological, outer zones. Just as there are children whose rambunctious eagerness to participate makes trouble for them in school or signals the presence of other problems, there are children whose silence is a shout for help.

I’m struck by the parallels between the ways we discuss shyness and the ways we discuss impulsivity and hyperactivity. In both cases, there is concern about the risk of “pathologizing” children who are well within the range of normal and worry that we are too likely to medicate outliers. By this thinking, children who would once have been considered shy and quiet too often get antidepressants, just as children who would once have been considered lively and rambunctious too often get A.D.H.D. medications.

But the most important question is whether children are in distress. Dr. Merikangas’s study distinguished between the common trait of shyness and the psychiatric diagnosis of social phobia. Over all, about 5 percent of the adolescents in the study were severely restricted by social anxiety; they included some who described themselves as shy and some who did not. The authors questioned whether the debate about the “medicalization” of shyness might be obscuring the detection of the distinct signs of social phobia.

For parents who simply want to help a shy child cope with, for example, a brand new classroom full of brand new people, consider rehearsing, scripting encounters and interactions. “The best thing they can do is do a role play and behavioral rehearsal ahead of time,” said Steven Kurtz, a senior clinician at the Child Mind Institute in Manhattan. Parents should “plan on rewarding the bravery.”

But don’t take over. “The danger point is rescuing too soon, too often, too much, so the kids don’t develop coping mechanisms,” said Dr. Kurtz.

Cognitive behavioral therapy relies on “successive approximations,” in which children slowly close in on the behaviors they are hoping to achieve. In that spirit, a parent might arrange to meet another parent on the way to school, so a shy child can walk with another and bond. A teacher might look for the right partner to pair up with a shy child for cooperative activities in the classroom.

“Probably the worst thing to do is to say, ‘Don’t be shy. Don’t be quiet,’ ” Dr. Merikangas told me. This is not about trying to change the child’s temperament. It’s about respecting and honoring temperament and variation, and helping children navigate the world with their own instruments.