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Ask the Teacher

Middle school anxiety, "mean" teachers, back to school routines and homework strategies

August 2013

Question: I am not sure who is more afraid of my daughter starting middle school, her or me. I am trying not to let her see my fears, but I don't know what to do to help her feel more comfortable. What can I possibly do?

Middle school is a challenging time, but there are many things that you can do to help your daughter feel good about the start of the year. As soon as the building is open, visit the school. Request a school map and walk through the halls to get the lay of the land. Do this several times to remove her anxiety of getting lost trying to navigate the hallways. Once your daughter has her locker combination, have her practice opening the locker multiple times so she can do it effortlessly. To alleviate the awkwardness of reconnecting with friends after the summer, organize a couple of social events just before school starts to help re-establish social connections that will ease the first days back.

Keeping your daughter from seeing your own fears is crucial! It is nearly impossible to help someone feel comfortable and confident when feeling nervous ourselves. Venting those fears to your spouse or a good friend will help, but don't dwell on what could go wrong. Focus instead on the great opportunities and possibilities that this new phase of maturity provides. You will all be happier!

Question: When our school announced next year's class assignments on the last day of school, I thought it would be a good thing. It did not turn out to be such a good thing for my son. Someone on the bus told him that his new teacher is mean and strict. He has been dreading the new year ever since. Should I request that he be switched to a different class?

Whatever you do, do not request a different class. That will teach your child to give too much credence to how people judge one another. Take the opportunity to discuss why this student may have developed such a negative opinion of the teacher. Did that child have poor behavior? Had he just had a bad day and been in trouble? Does this child speak poorly of others also? Talk with your child about the complexity of each of us; we all have strengths and weaknesses.

Hypothesize some positive outcomes of a strict teacher. Express your belief (and expectation) that your son will build a positive relationship with the teacher and discuss how he can do so.

If your son is not reassured, consider inviting the teacher to lunch or arranging an early introduction. Meeting the teacher will remove the monster image your child may be creating of her in his mind.

Question: Our family loves summer. We are active and busy constantly. School starts earlier and earlier, and moving into the school routine gets harder and harder. What should I do to make the change go more smoothly?

Summer routines typically involve late bed times and sleeping in. That is one of the things we all love about summer! But that is also a routine that cannot be changed in one or two days before school starts for most kids.

Sufficient rest is one of the most necessary elements for school success. At least a week prior to school starting, ease back in to normal bed times and wake up times. If your child's sleeping schedule has adjusted before school actually begins, he will be one step closer to a positive school start. A well-rested child pays better attention, performs better academically, makes better behavior decisions and reacts better to social challenges.

Question: Once school starts, it seems that there is a constant battle every night to get homework done. My daughter seems to spin her wheels as much as she works. What can I do besides nag her to get her to finish in a timely way?

Working on a homework plan with your daughter now is the beginning of effective homework time! Equip a school supply box with pencils, erasers, pencil sharpener, notebook paper, scratch paper, dictionary, tape, a stapler, a calculator and anything else your child routinely requires. This will keep your daughter from wasting time trying to find what she needs to complete her assignments. Establish an organized homework environment in the place where your daughter works best. For some kids that is close to your watchful eye; others can handle being in their room. Determine if she is more efficient by working for short concentrated time blocks of ten to fifteen minutes or by continuing for longer periods once the work is underway. Write down the plan the two of you discuss that details when and how she will do homework.

As with any plan, a key component is reflecting on how well it is working and revising it as necessary. This is important even if the plan is working well to positively reinforce her growth in responsibility.

Remember that your role is to provide support and encouragement. You should also be willing to provide rewards for motivation as well as consequences for irresponsible use of time.

Ask the Teacher</b> is written by Deb Krupowicz, a mother of four and current teacher. Deb holds a Master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction and has over twenty years of experience teaching preschool, elementary and middle school students. Please send your questions to her at asktheteacher@indyschild.com

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