- Minimize stuff – I usually recommend to my families that they do a serious downsizing of “stuff” twice a year (winter and summer). Pick a weekend in January and use it to get rid of all of the excess “stuff” you have. For example, you and your child might go through all clothes, keeping only the things that they/you actually wear. You might go through books, toys, sporting goods, etc.. Obviously, you’ll also want to go through all school related stuff and recycle irrelevant items. You see, the more stuff your child has, the more they (or you) have to maintain, which takes time and energy. Choose wisely and consider the most important ways for you to “spend” your time and energy.
- Overhaul backpack – See my video on this here, but basically, empty the backpack of every single thing (crumbs and all). Reorganize every single remaining item so your child can start the semester off with a clean slate, a backpack that is organized and set up for success. Yes, involve them in this process as much as possible. The more ownership they take, the better.
- Frontload the planner – Google “(your school’s name) annual calendar” and print a couple of copies of this calendar. Get ALL relevant information for the entire semester into the planner now. Hilight all days off. Get all other relevant information into the calendar: Consider doctors, dentists, therapists, extra curriculars, birthdays, travel, or anything else that can be frontloaded into the planner. Check teacher websites or syllabi for dates of exams, projects, papers, etc.. Finally, tear out all irrelevant pages from the planner (students love this aspect of streamlining the planner because it’s tangible).
- Put a “weekly overhaul” on the calendar for the entire semester. Today. – Look, it takes time to build good habits, there isn’t a magic bullet. Successful students are good at maintaining their systems, struggling students are not. So to build this “muscle” these students benefit from regular opportunities to overhaul their systems. This generally means taking an hour a week to thoroughly update the planner, thoroughly overhaul the backpack, thoroughly check the details of online grades, thoroughly check teacher updates on websites, and emailing teachers for clarifications. I recommend Sunday evenings, but do whatever works. Now put it in the calendars!
- Reset the SSS – Students need a “Sacred” Space to Study just as adults need sacred spaces to do our focused work. Unfortunately, most kids have never been guided through the process of designing a customized space for focused work. Take time to intentionally reorganize their study area, minimizing distractions and optimizing it for focused work. Again, the more involved they are in this process, the better.
- Take time to hold space and connect – Perhaps one of the most powerful tools I use with my students is that I spend a great deal of time “holding space” for them. When I do this, my students are able to open up with more honesty and clarity than at any other time. But it’s not an easy skill to learn. My guess is that adults are often moving so fast that they forget how to slow down enough to hold space. One way to hold space for your child is to take time every week to be fully present with them, and to create an emotionally safe experience for them to express their thought and feelings. This means no cell phones, laptops, tvs, people running around, chaos, etc.. In other words, no distractions. This means listening without judgement, which is challenging for parents. Instead of reacting how you normally do to what your child says, try to pause for 3 very long seconds and see if they have more to say. And instead of giving advice or bestowing your wisdom upon them when they didn’t ask for it, simply say, “tell me more” or, “I’m listening, go on.” Try not to nod in agreement or shake your head in disapproval, just listen with an open and curious heart. Just be there, hold a safe space. Trust that their own reflection will pay off in the long run, and be patient. This only scratches the surface, but try cultivating this practice on a regular basis.
- Plan quality time – Kids grow up fast, so don’t miss it. Quality time with your child is the most important thing as far as I’m concerned, and it’s easy to get caught up in the day to day that we miss out on too many of these opportunities. So plan these experiences now. Literally take time to sit with your calendar and plan fun, connected time. Block out time to do things where you connect meaningfully with your child. Maybe you have movie nights once a month, plan family dates, sporting events, game nights, trips, staycations. Maybe you plan times to teach your kids what you learned from your elders, family recipes, family stories, family arts, etc.. Ask your child what they like to do with you, really listen and then plan that. Just plan things that are fun (without the cell phones interrupting, of course). Put them into your calendar now!
Have other ideas? Please share below so others can learn from your experiences.