10 Critical Dos and Don’ts for a Successful School Year

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Now that the initial back-to-school adjustment period (a.k.a. when my kids act like crazed monkeys because they can’t handle major schedule changes) is over, it’s time for me to start thinking about ways to set them up for success this year. So I spoke with my friend Ann Dolin, who is a very smart and fancy author, and an education expert. She gave me some suggestions for things I could be doing to help my kids academically.

She shared several dos and don’ts, and I’m very grateful for that! I have to say, I think I might be most grateful for the don’ts. Some of her don’ts were things I was doing or saying, and I’m about to put a hard stop on them. Check out her suggestions and find out how you can set your kids up for success in school.

  • Let’s get started! 1 of 12

    If you're like me, you'll see some things you're already doing right and some things you could be doing better.

  • Do: Set goals for the school year. 2 of 12

    Sit down and have a conversation with your kids about how they think everything is going this year. Together, set one goal for the year. It should not be a big, overwhelming goal. It should meaningful, attainable and obvious to your child if it's getting done (or not). For example, if your kid is disorganized, maybe the best goal for him is to have his backpack and school stuff packed, and ready by the front door the night before.

    Photo credit: Photostock

  • Don’t: Say, "Do your best" or "Try harder." 3 of 12

    I am so guilty of this. I always tell my kids that all I care about is their effort - and that's good. But when I tell them my goal for them for this year is to "just do your best," it makes things harder for them instead of easier.


    How can you be sure you've done your best over a whole school year? No one can have a "do your best" day every day. Statements like this are too vague. They also mean one thing to you and a different thing to your kid.


    When you want your kids to raise the bar in terms of how they're doing in school, give them specific, meaningful, smaller things they can do. Being successful at a series of small goals will make them feel confident and awesome.

    Photo credit: Stock Images

  • Do: Praise effort every time you see it. 4 of 12

    If you see your kid doing something right, let them know! It's important to praise their actions and their hard work, not necessarily their accomplishments. If they are working hard every day, with a good attitude, even if they're not getting A's right now, they're setting the stage to do so in the future. Developing a good work ethic and taking responsibility for your assignments and tasks is incredibly important. Parents can help foster that by praising effort and good attitude every time we see it.


    Also, when it all starts to come together, ask your kids how it feels when they worked hard and it paid off? Let them reflect on and feel pride in their own accomplishments and effort.

    Photo credit: Stock Images

  • Don’t: Just say, "You’re so smart." 5 of 12

    Being smart is great, but it's also not something that kids can control. If they feel that their accomplishments are due to being inherently smart, they won't claim any ownership of those accomplishments. They also may lack motivation to work for things because "they're just smart."


    Praise kids for things they can control: how hard they try, their great attitude, the kind of student and friend they are. When kids (and their parents) take pride in those things, they work to enhance them.

    Photo credit: Stock Images

  • Do: Limit screen time in a smart way. 6 of 12

    This is a tip I was very happy learn. Ann has found that if you withhold screen time until "after homework,"  a lot of kids will push through homework as fast as they can and do the bare minimum. She suggests a different strategy, and that's to withhold all screen time until after dinner or later in the evening, no matter what.


    While this may take some adjusting in my house (I usually count on TV time for the kids so I can get dinner ready), I can really see the wisdom in this. I think we may try having homework time at the kitchen table while I cook and no TV/DS/iPad/XBox until dinner is over.

    Photo credit: Marin

  • Do: Find the right time to do homework. 7 of 12

    My kids seem to do best when they jump right in and get their homework done after school. We all feel better when it's out of the way, and it frees up the rest of their afternoon for playing, relaxing, sports or chores. But this doesn't work for everyone.


    Ann suggests that there are several different "best" times to get homework done. For younger kids this may be right after school or right after a 30-minute break when they get home. This is because younger, elementary-age kids have less homework and earlier bedtimes.


    For older kids, the best time for homework may be before dinner, after dinner or before bed. As kids get older, they begin to push back on the when of doing homework. Just find the time that seems to work best for them and stick to it.

    Photo Credit: Imagery Majestic

  • Do: Focus on routines, not rewards. 8 of 12

    Don't reward kids for things they should be doing anyway — like homework. This is good news for me as my kids tend to think  rewards should get bigger and bigger (in other words, more expensive!) with each achievement. No, thank you. Research shows that when you take the reward way, motivation often goes with it. It's a much better idea (in the long and short term) to establish routines that encourage consistency and organization.

    Photo credit: Khunaspix

  • Don’t: Micromanage your kid’s homework. 9 of 12

    If you establish a routine where homework doesn't get done unless you're there on top of your kid or if you have to review it for accuracy or neatness, it's time to switch things up. Micromanaging homework (the process or the outcome) sends a strong message that kids can't do it themselves. Over time, this can make kids feel inadequate.


    In our interview Ann said she's seen it play out a couple of different ways. In some cases, it can result in kids becoming over-reliant on help and attention to get schoolwork done. Other kids may become defiant and annoyed by the attention, and it creates pushback and conflict on getting homework done. In either case, let them do their own work.

    Photo credit: David Castillo Dominici

  • Do: Follow up and see that homework is getting done. 10 of 12

    Ann mentioned that one of the most common questions she gets from parents is "Should I be checking my kid's homework every night?" Her response to this was interesting for me because while she strongly discourages micro-managing homework, checking to see if it's been completed is fine. It gives parents the chance to praise effort, to make sure there are no problems cropping up, and to get a sense of what is being worked on in the classroom. But don't check to see if everything is perfect, she advises leaving issues about the quality of your child's work to the teacher.


    One exception! If your child is struggling with math, checking homework for accuracy may be necessary because of the cumulative nature of how math is learned.

    Photo credit: Stock Images

  • Do: Ask for help if you think there’s a problem. 11 of 12

    If you think your child needs help academically, it's important not to ignore it and figure out specifically what is going on. Pushing them to work harder may not be the solution you're looking for. Ask your kid's teacher for his or her opinion, and get some suggestions for things you can do at home to reinforce classroom learning. If that doesn't help, find a tutor! While tutors can be expensive, there are lower cost options (e.g. teenagers and community programs).


    It's a great life lesson to teach your kids as well. When you're struggling with something, don't ignore it, ask for help, find some solutions, and work on fixing the problem.

    Photo credit: Photo stock

  • This is Ann! 12 of 12

    Learn more about Ann, and subscribe to her awesome newsletter on her website. Honestly, I think her newsletter is one of the best free resources out there for parents of school-aged kids. I learn something new that I can put into practice every time I read it. For reals, you guys. Also, you can check out her book on Amazon.

Read more from Julie at her blog Rants from MommyLand. Follow Julie on Facebook , Pinterest and Twitter for additional goofy nonsense at no extra charge. You can also catch up on her Babble Voices blog, Rants in My Pants.

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