Labor Day is right around the corner. If your child hasn’t started school yet, they are about to. As children age and go from one grade level to the next, challenges are inevitably put before them. In addition to the changing social challenges, there are physical, emotional, and academic challenges. Most of the challenges are a result of changes, which is one of the few constants in the world. The best way to understand these changes is to know what they are and then decide how best to help your child.
As children enter preschool, they will experience separation for the first time. Up to this point, most children may have never been apart from their parents on a consistent basis, for extended periods of times. The notion of discipline (not in a scolding manner but in the sense of self control) may be introduced at this time. Things like sitting down when asked to, and following directions. On the social side, they may be confronted with the notion of sharing in a much broader way than they have before. They will also have interaction with new children for the first time on a regular basis. They will start to develop listening skills, and how to pay attention and use their memory. This is applied through learning things like colors, shapes, and listening to the stories they are told.
Kindergarden Through Grade Four
This will be their first time to deal with the transition of moving to a new building, and the ever-dreaded longer school day. Learning the roles of “student” versus “teacher” and adjusting to routine and structure during these years, is important. They will begin to face more structured rewards and consequences for their behavioral choices, as well as a development of responsibility with independent task such as homework. They will still be adjusting to a life outside of their home. They will continue to form new friendships, and learn about the importance of teamwork. They will start to find what interests them and what their own, unique skills may be. They will begin to comprehend math and science, as well as computational skills. They will learn how to read words and have a meaning behind those words; who, what, when, where, why, and how.
Grades Five and Six
A strong sense of independence will start to set in. This will be a huge emotional time for them, as this is when differences among students start to become more apparent. Parents and schools increase their demands from children in terms of responsibilities, which will compound existing stresses and create new ones as well.
There is good news on the social front: This is typically when kids start to make their “friends for life” and friendship circles expand. They will start to want to join social groups outside of the family, and plan their own independent time through activities, sports, and clubs. Unfortunately this will also breed cliques, so don’t be afraid to be supportive – which will require becoming more creative about communication.
There is a major academic change starting to appear here too as the emphasis switches from building basic skills and moves into more advanced materials and concepts. Children are now expected to be able to use their basic skills and develop them to start problem solving, and more competent in reading comprehension, writing technique, and more overall knowledge.
Grades Seven and Eight
The biggest challenge for our children in these grades is just making it to high school. Many look at these years (middle school) as in-between years, the most difficult part of which is the onset of puberty. Pre-teens perception of their body begins to change, it seems like almost daily. Socially, they may have to deal with separation from elementary friends, as they often end up at different schools.
Academic challenges arise from further independence. They will have to learn how to adapt to more than one classroom throughout the day, with several different teachers. With five or six classrooms and teachers in a single day, social skills are forced to take on new dynamics. They will have to learn how to cope and adapt with the different teaching techniques and peer acceptance becomes critical. Additionally, other social pressures are introduced from the family such as religious ceremonies, and other coming-of-age traditions are thrust upon them.
This is the hardest back to school years for a child to experience. Besides puberty being in full swing and the million questions that comes with that, the freshman year is considered a BIG year: Bigger buildings, bigger class sizes, and bigger expectations (all of which bring bigger fears).
Also on the physical and emotional front, as a full-fledged adolescent, your child has to cope with developing complete independence from their family – while at the same time maintain that strong family connection. Not an easy task, as you will remember.
This is also a hard time for parents, as they must learn to have less direct input academic decisions and school activities (including sports).
On the social front, the adolescent needs to learn how to balance their social life with their responsibilities, such as school and (for most) a part time job. A job brings with it an income, which in turn opens up the opportunity engage in alcohol, drugs, and sexual activities – all of which they are constantly pressured by peers to engage in. It is vital for parents to have rational and calm conversations about these activities: The more harsh the conversation, the more likely the adolescent is to completely disregard what was said. Don’t lecture, discuss with them the risks and consequences, and offer advice.
Academic challenges for high school students include developing an assertive and effective learning style for them, and excellent study and organizational life skills. The pressure of what to do as senior year approaches and what to do with their life after graduation, increases from family, friends, and just about everywhere.
No matter what grade level, there are five basic notions to keep in mind:
1) Be aware of the different age-related, social, and academic challenges your child will face in different stages of their life. Don’t group them together, such as telling them they will make friends this year, just like they did last year.
2) Make sure to consider a child’s personal and family situations that may make some years more difficult than others. You can inform their teachers, and let them help you.
3) Help your child prepare for the school year and their new experiences beforehand, and help phase in lifestyle changes. Don’t do it all at once. A great example is sleep: Toward the end of summer vacation, gradually set in the school year boundaries with bed time, so the transition is smooth. Its a lot easier to move a bed time from Midnight, to 11 p.m., to 10:30 p.m. over the course of a few weeks, then in just one night.
4) Keep your hands off their assignments! Act as an advisor, but don’t do their homework for them. Help them figure out how to do it and what works best for them, by discussing options rather than solutions. This is especially tough the younger your child is.
5) Finally, for a good partnership with your children’s school personnel. Children can quite easily behave differently at school than they do at home, especially as they cope with the stress that the academic, social, and physical challenges brought to them. Stay informed.
Next week: Teachers, you need help too, here’s your 411 to prepare for the new school. We can’t forget about teachers and them needing prep for the looming school year as well. Then, to conclude the six-part series, we will take an in-depth look at senioritis: Senior Year.