A+ Advice for Parents

Q: My daughter, a first-grader, is thrilled to be back in school, but my son, who's in third grade, is fighting it, especially homework. Nothing happened last year to make him reluctant to go back, so how can I get him excited?

A: For many kids, a new school year is exciting. But it's totally normal for some children to experience nervousness and anxiety, says Virginia educator Ann Dolin.

"It's not uncommon for kids to worry about whether they'll be with old friends, or if they'll get along with a new teacher, or whether they'll remember anything from last year," she explains.

Focus on listening to your son's concerns and establishing positive routines, so he feels prepared, rested and confident. Excitement may follow!

Dolin, who taught in Fairfax, Virginia, for several years prior to launching her tutoring company, Educational Connections Inc., offers this advice:

-- Find a calm time to talk. Probe and listen for reasons that might be causing your son's resistance. Has anything happened recently that has upset him, such as a close friend being assigned to another class? Does he struggle with separation anxiety from you at other times? Is he getting enough sleep? Is he eating properly? For example, notes Dolin, research shows that sugary snacks can increase anxiety, so keep those out of his diet.

You mentioned homework is a worry. If having homework is new to him, "establish a routine for getting it done," Dolin advises.

In a post on her website, she writes: "There are essentially five times to start homework: right after school, after a 30-minute break, before dinner, after dinner and right before bedtime. Elementary students often need down time after school, or when they return from their extra-curricular activities; about 30 minutes is usually sufficient. This is when homework should start."

-- Talk about what to expect in third grade. Build excitement for new learning. Check your school's website for curriculum standards to identify subjects he'll study. Point out topics that will interest him. For example, third-graders study the solar system. If he's a "Star Wars" fan, this could excite him.

-- Reinforce organizational routines: Getting back into a school-year groove doesn't happen overnight. Stick with routines that give the school day a smooth start. For example, every evening, check his homework, then pack his backpack, and place it next to the door. Make his lunch and refrigerate it the night before and put a sticky note on the backpack so he doesn't forget it. Have him choose and set out his clothes before he goes to bed. Establish a regular school-year bedtime and wake-up schedule that ensures he gets enough sleep.

Don't drag out goodbyes, which can increase anxiety, says Dolin. "You don't have to show tough love, but hold your tears and worries until you are out of his sight. Project confidence. Tell your son how excited you both will be when he comes home to tell you about his new friends and what he's learning."

If his anxieties don't go away in a couple of weeks, meet with his teacher or school counselor to gather more information. For more tips, see Dolin's blog at ectutoring.com.

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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