Summer is coming to an end. The stores are stocked with fresh school supplies and that back to school excitement is in the air. But there are many children who aren’t so excited. The complaints, the stomachaches, and the sad faces are starting up again.

Here are five strategies to help your reluctant child get back into gear for the upcoming school year.

1. Dial back the pressure.

Our society values academic achievement above all. Jewish culture also places great value on learning. There is nothing so appealing as having a child who is a straight “A” student.

However, we need to rethink our values. Yes, good grades matter, but how much? And at what cost?

There are many people who did not do well in school but have achieved greatness in life (Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs come to mind). Think about your childhood friends who didn’t experience success in school. Chances are many of them are doing just fine. Oftentimes children’s talents are not appreciated in the confines of the classroom. It is only after they leave that they begin to flourish.

2. Focus on learning what you love.

Parents often talk about grades: “How did you do on your test?” “Why didn't you get an ‘A’? “You need to study more to get good grades!”

Instead talk about loving to learn which encourages curiosity:

“Was there something interesting you learned today?”
“What piqued your interest today in school?”
“You learned about cumulus clouds? You’ve always been interested in weather!”

Every once in a while tell your child, “I care more that you enjoy learning than you getting good grades. It means more to me that that you find something that interests you and want to learn more about it.”

Ironically, the more we let our kids know that their grades are not everything, the more they will take school seriously themselves.

3. Praise intentionally.

Don’t praise your child for his intelligence, saying things like, “You are the brightest kid I know!” Instead praise him for working hard and for persevering at a difficult task. Children who are praised for putting in effort are more likely to keep trying when they encounter setbacks. They know they have control over their ability to learn. Children who are told they are smart have a harder time with school and are more likely to give up when they have to complete assignments that leave them feeling “not-so-smart.”

4. Empathize and empower.

When children complain about school, our knee jerk reaction is to deny their feelings or give them logical explanations about why they should love school.

“School is not so bad…”
“Your teacher likes you! She is not so mean, it’s just tough being a teacher.”
“You just need one friend! Don’t worry about all the other kids!”

We need to read between the lines when our children moan about school. When kids kick up a fuss they are essentially telling us one thing: “School is really difficult for me and I need to know that I am okay.” Alternatively, school might be okay for them, but they may be struggling socially. In that case they are saying, “I can’t figure out this social thing, it feels overwhelming.”

The best thing that we can do is to first accept their feelings:

“Something about school is bothering you…”
“You sound like you are struggling with math…”
“Your uncomfortable with your teacher…”
“Your classmates make you feel embarrassed about your reading…”
“Kids are being mean to other kids…it sounds like you don't know what to do…”

We can then empower them to come up with their own solutions to their problems:

“Do you have any ideas of what you can do to make math easier for you?”
“Do you want some ideas on how to deal with mean kids? Do you want to know what other kids your age do? Do you have any ideas yourself?”
“What do you think would make school more enjoyable for you?”
“What can you do to build a better and more comfortable relationship with your teacher?

Empathy and questions to empower our kids demonstrate that we understand and care for them. Most important, it teaches them that we have faith that they have the ability to overcome their own challenges.

5. Get help.

If your child is constantly complaining about school and is feeling overwhelmed, do not hesitate to reach out for help. There are so many resources out there to support children in their learning. Start with your child’s teacher, school social worker or principal.