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As school begins, how can I help my child succeed?

Answer by:
Ari Brown, MD

Pediatrician, WebMD Medical Expert
American Academy of Pediatrics

  1. Self-discipline: Have a conversation about personal responsibility. As a parent, it’s our inclination to rescue our kids… which sometimes means making a special trip up to school to drop off the homework that got left on the kitchen table. But, school gives children an opportunity to practice their life skills in a safe environment. Let your child forget his homework, and let him see the consequence of being disorganized. These are teaching moments.
  2. Confidence: Talk about making good decisions and sticking to them. A child with good self-esteem will not cave to peer pressure. She will lead and not follow. Remember those words every exasperated parent has shouted: “If everyone else was jumping off of a bridge, would you?!” Make your child feel good about her reasoning and judgment. Then, you won’t have to worry that she will blindly follow others.
  3. Exercise: If your child plays a sport, exercise time is automatically part of his schedule. But many tweens and teens don’t exercise on a regular basis if they aren’t involved in a team sport. Make physical activity part of your child’s daily routine. Kids spend several hours a day sitting at a desk, and then a few hours (or more) sitting down to do their homework. Make exercise a priority and a mental health break.
  4. Set media limits: Twitter, Facebook, cell phones, text messaging, video games, TV shows, and surfing the web… need I go on? As if school, homework, and after-school activities aren’t enough, electronic communications and screen time can take up the rest of a child’s waking hours. Make a family plan to spend time together without disruption from a TV or a friend who is calling or texting your child during dinner. Turn off the electronics completely or set a curfew for them.
  5. Sleep: Sleep is powerful and underrated. With so many things on your child’s plate, she may sacrifice sleep to cram for a math test or have a text conversation with her best friend. Remind your child how much better she will feel (and how much better she will perform on that math test) if she gets the sleep her body needs. Set a reasonable bedtime and try to enforce it as much as possible.