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by Pepper Pratt, Ph.D.

I talk a lot with kids and families. There are very mixed reviews when it comes to going back to school. Parents really enjoy the return to a routine and the structure that function like gutter guards at the bowling alley, keeping everything moving and going in a good general direction. Kids at summertime are often like rogue kitty-cats, making final scrambles for freedom before having to go back inside for a season. Our children, on the other hand embrace all things summer: swimming, being outside, vacations, sleeping in, lower pressure, low expectations, working and being paid for it, etc…. The list goes on. A few youngsters, whether they admit it or not, get a little bored in the summertime and prefer to have a plan for the day. Going back to school has a “plan” that is pre-packaged.

As a psychology-trained therapist, I have also done my share of work with athletes. The majority of my sports-psychology clients? Golfers. The #1 complaint of golfers is that once they have experienced a bad hole or a bad shot, it gets in their head and it is difficult to get back on track. The self-talk and internal tapes that begin playing so distract them from their game, they live up to the negative language in their minds. L

Many kids going back to school feel the same way. Academic confidence, especially transitioning from middle school to high school, often determines the grades they make, the colleges they seek and the jobs they ultimately get. When a child has a bad academic experience during this time of life, it can be derailing. But, just like the golfer has to do some self-coaching to get their focus back and play to their ability, a student may need some life-coaching from time to time, even over tutoring. This is where you come in.

While you may not be able to make your child any smarter, you very well may be able to help him or her get focused on the books in such a way that her potential is maximized. Here are a few suggestions for getting off to a good start.

Coach them to get organized. Now-a-days, schools are pretty good at acknowledging and helping with this very foundational study-skill. Often, during the first week of the school-year, teachers may require or even give out a planning notebook that helps your student keep up with dates and assignments. Of course, we also have Franklin-Covey Planners, Moleskins, iPhones, iPads and laptops. Which one is the most effective? The debate rages over paper vs. electronic organizers. The answer is very clear. The one that works the best is the one you actually use!

Coach them to build relationships with adults. There is a correlation between students who excel academically and a positive relationship that same student has with faculty and staff at the school. Most teachers step in to that calling because they want to help students! If you look hard enough, you can find something wrong with any teacher. Avoid falling into the middle-school temptation to make fun of teachers, even passively agreeing with you child when they may blame the teacher for their own lack of academic performance. Teaching your child to build relationships with adults begins with you having your own partnership with your child’s teacher as the school-year begins.

Coach them to experience more at school than just the classroom. When you think about it, your child spends more waking moments at school than just about any other single location during childhood. There are not just opportunities to learn the basics, but also fantastic moments in which your child may develop as a leader, an athlete, an artist, or as a friend. There are many teachable moments. Lean in to them.

Coach them to follow through. I have gone about as far in school as most people would ever want to go and I have learned this one thing: school success has less to do with high intelligence and much more to do with persistence. That’s right, most people with doctorates aren’t necessarily higher IQ than everyone else, they just didn’t quit. Following through begins with this week’s homework. Following through is not just blowing off a bad grade but seeking to understand what went wrong and determining to learn from it. Following through is showing up to football practice when you didn’t earn the starting spot. Following through is continuing to put forth a best effort when the subject area doesn’t come naturally. Just don’t quit.

Coach them to keep it simple. Complicated will come in its own time, but try to stay in this week. Try to understand what is happening this week. Don’t become a prisoner between last week and next week.

There are many challenges, but many opportunities for delight as school begins. As a parent, seek to stay in tune with the challenges and the delights of your child. This school year is about your child’s experience and not your own. In the meantime, enjoy the delightful things that happen and be prepared to coach them through the challenges.

Pepper Pratt, Ph.D. LPC/MHSP is the Executive Director at Youth Town of Tennessee