Shiny, sharpened pencils,
Desks all in a row,
It's the first day of school and
I don’t want to go.
A very different teacher,
With a strange sounding name.
I want my last year's teacher –
Things will never be the same!
I remember all the things we learned,
And all the things we made.
The truth is,
If you really want to know,,,
I'm really afraid.

This is how many children feel when the school year begins. Even if they’re not starting a new school, they’re anxious about all of the changes that will occur: What will their new teacher be like? Will their friends be in their class? What time will school be over?

Easing the Anxiety

If you anticipate your children’s fears and resistance to school, you can help combat those fears even before they start. Transform the potentially stressful back to school time into an adventure. Take your children along to shop for school supplies and allow them to display their own personality by choosing colored pencils, backpacks, folders, rulers, and binders. Having your children select their own supplies will also give them a sense of ownership and confidence when they enter school on the first day.

Another great way to turn back-to-school blues into back-to-school adventures is through your refrigerator door. Using tape and labels, you can section off different parts of your refrigerator for each child in your family. Then, whenever your child comes home from school with a picture, project, essay, or report card that they are proud of, you can add it to their section of the refrigerator. This helps your children focus on the positive aspect of learning as they hope to continue filling up their section. It also reinforces your pride in their accomplishments and brings their education home.

Discuss with your child what might be frightening him. Perhaps he fears not being able to make friends easily or maybe he is afraid of bullies in school. Role-play with your child to help relieve anxiety. For instance, if your child is scared that a bully will push him in school, ask him to pretend that you are the bully. Then encourage him to respond to you in a way that makes you, “the bully,” stop bothering him. If he still feels at a loss, you can switch and allow your child to play the bully so that you can demonstrate the characteristics of an assertive adult. Through role-playing, your child can learn techniques to protect himself and therefore begin to look forward to returning to school.

Motivating to Achieve

Once our children settle into their back to school routines, how can we motivate them to excel in school? Often, we get frustrated because we do not understand why our bright children are not motivated to do well in school. Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, the founder and dean of Yeshiva Darchei Noam of Monsey, and founder and Director of Project Y.E.S. (Youth Enrichment Services) explains: “Frequently our children are locked into an educational system designed for a particular way of thinking with a very specific structure of learning. And this may be terrific for the majority of the class. But what about the children who are floundering – daydreaming or restless, failing or acting out? Each person has different intellectual attributes, scholastic abilities and different struggles. Perhaps your son or daughter has a different kind of mind, with skills and strengths that aren't rewarded in the traditional classroom.”

Not every child learns the same way. How can you help your child achieve his or her potential? First, find out what is bothering your child. Does he feel that the material is too simple? Does he fear failure? Does he need to recognize how the curriculum connects to his “real” life? When you understand what your child needs to succeed, you can help provide him with the tools to success.

I remember one child, Sarah, who was extremely bright, but was almost failing out of her school. Through our work together, I recognized that Sarah was under-stimulated in her classes. I encouraged her parents to stock the shelves in her rooms with books related to the subjects she was studying in school. After reading these books, instead of being bored in class, Sarah was constantly raising her hand to share what she had learned from her reading. Through her renewed interest, her grades improved and she rose to the top of her class. For many children it is simply a matter of figuring out how to make them excited about what they are learning.

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