Back to School Edition: Tip #4

Post Its

Did you miss tips #1, #2, and #3?
There is still time to catch up and create a mindset for a successful school year! 

Back to School Tip of the Day #4

Make it personal.  This may be the best advice that you receive in this series because today’s ideas came straight from my kids, and they are smarter than I am! I asked my guys what parents can do to help their kids enjoy a successful year. Their answers gave me a “lightbulb moment” – and made me wonder why we adults forget that the strategies that work for us can translate to our kids, too.

Before we dive into the tip of the day, ask yourself this: What is it that allows some people to successfully complete a challenge when others refuse to try or quit before meeting their goals? We like to think that successful people have just had it easy, and in some cases that’s true, but most successful people have overcome significant obstacles to get to the top. They have faced problems. They have experienced failure. They have felt sad and angry and hopeless at times. They have wanted to raise the white flag somewhere along the way, but they didn’t – because they developed resilience. They learned strategies to cope when the goin’ got rough. I don’t know about you, but I want my kids to learn to push through their challenges when they really feel like throwing in the towel, and this requires them to develop a healthy sense of self.

So what will help a child persevere when a school day feels stressful? My oldest son shared that when he is having a bad day, his stress decreases when he pulls something that makes him happy out of his backpack. For example, his math worksheet doesn’t seem quite as painful when he puts it into his Jurassic World folder because that folder reminds him of a fun family memory when we went to that movie on opening night. It warms my heart to know that something as simple as a $1 folder from Target is enough to soothe his nerves when he is threatening to become the next elementary school dropout.


When I saw these Jurassic World folders, I knew that my son would love them, but I had no idea that there was a reason beyond the fact that dinosaurs are cool. It never occurred to me that having something that specifically applied to his interests, something personal, would actually help his self-esteem, but it makes sense. On those days when he feels frustrated or inadequate at school, that folder reminds him that he is smart (because he DOES know a lot about dinosaurs), that he has a family that loves him (because he connects the image to a memory), and that he is more than just a kid who is struggling to conquer a difficult math concept. That simple folder is a triple threat to a bad day!

Maybe this is why he often keeps a few drawings in his folders, too. His vocabulary words may be difficult this week, but his artwork reminds him that he is a talented artist, and that gives him a little boost of confidence just when he needs it. How will my son’s artistic talent help him to earn higher grades in his other classes? It won’t, at least not directly. But his drawings allow him to say, in his head, “I am talented. I can do things. Look at what I can accomplish when I put my mind to it.” Adults create similar reminders in their own homes and workspaces. Why do you think so many diplomas and race bibs and hunting trophies are hanging on walls?

So how can you remind your kids of their uniqueness, their talents, and their accomplishments when you cannot stand beside their desks with pompoms during the school day? The solution is to find ways to stay connected and personalize your child’s experience as much as possible. Sometimes, it’s as simple as buying a folder with dinosaurs on it.  Sometimes, you need to be creative.  Maybe her math notebook has to be plain and red, but you could tape a meaningful photograph on the inside cover for a little inconspicuous pick-me-up. Do you have photographs on your desk at work? My office is full of pictures because they brighten my day and remind me that I matter outside of my work responsibilities. They also reveal that I have a loving support system despite my mistakes and that I have something to look forward to at the end of the day – snuggling up with my husband and kids. Maybe sending a few photos to school with our kids would provide a similar shot of sunshine!


Here are some other ideas! Choose one to give your child a built-in boost on a gloomy day:

  • Write your child an encouraging letter at the beginning of the school year. Give him the note and a lucky charm when school starts, and encourage him to tuck them into a secret backpack compartment. Just knowing that they are always there can be reassuring.
  • If your child has to wrap textbooks, use white butcher paper or freezer paper. Let your child decorate the covers however she wants. She can use stickers, markers, photos, or magazine clippings, ask classmates to sign it, or create a collage of her favorite things to fight that stressful feeling.
  • Buy a mini-notebook and fill it with encouraging thoughts at the beginning of the school year if you won’t remember to send notes on a regular basis throughout the year. Ask aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, and grandparents to fill pages, too. Read through it together and then stick it in a special place in your child’s backpack. Revisit it at the start of every quarter.
  • Stick a post-it note with an encouraging thought on the front door every morning for your child to read and/or take. A little chalkboard by the door is another option. Texting may work well with older kids, if you are able to text outside of class times.
  • Buy the miniature version of your child’s favorite candy. Stick one in his jacket pocket every once in a while for a little surprise from Mom and Dad.
  • Send encouraging notes daily or randomly in her lunchbox.  Watch for a future post full of specific ideas!
  • Within reason, let your child choose the first-day outfit or the lunchbox or the backpack that you would never choose. Let her be an individual. This says, “I like you just the way you are.”
  • Buy an extra folder for your child’s backpack. Label it something like “HAPPY” or “PRIDE.” Help your child choose a few items to put into the folder at the beginning of the year, including photographs or other things that reflect his interests. Throughout the year, suggest that he add items to the folder, like a special note that his teacher gave him or a test that he aced because he studied really hard. When your child has had a bad day, remind him to look through his folder for a mental boost.

Education in our country is becoming more and more standardized and less and less personalized, which would make sense if students were standards instead of persons. Kids need to be reminded that they are valued as individuals, that they are multi-faceted human beings with both strengths and weaknesses, and that they have overcome obstacles in the past and can do so again. Whenever possible, find ways to make it personal!

Tomorrow we will talk about the importance of keeping your cool.
Join us for Tip #5!

Back to School Edition: Tip #3

Light Bulb

Did you miss the first part of this series?
Click here for Tip #1 and click here for Tip #2!

Back to School Tip of the Day #3

Don’t leave the teacher in the dark. Sometimes our instinct as parents is to withhold information that is painful to discuss. We do this with the best of intentions, to protect our kids from embarrassment, judgement, or ridicule. Maybe you have a child who has a history of disruptive behavior, and you are afraid that sharing this with the new teacher will cause her to see your child in a negative light. Maybe your child has had trouble concentrating in the past, but you don’t want the teacher to expect this because you are hoping that this year will be different. Maybe there are things going on at home like a divorce, the death of a grandparent, or a recent move, that are causing stress for your child, but you consider these to be private issues or just find them difficult to discuss. As a mom, I totally understand this desire to protect by withholding, but trust me when I say that YOUR CHILD’S TEACHER NEEDS TO KNOW. He wants to create a smooth transition for your child, and you can help him plan for your child’s success by sharing critical information, such as how your child learns best, how she typically behaves, when she feels most stressed, and what has helped her to be successful in other classrooms.

This information impacts everything from the seating chart in the classroom to the way that kids are grouped to the teaching methods that are chosen for each part of the material to the strategies that the teacher uses with your individual child. Sure, the teacher will eventually figure out that this child is painfully shy and that those two children should never be seated together and that another child feels anxious unless she is close to the teacher, while that child has a tummy ache every afternoon after lunch and another cries whenever she thinks about her old dog that probably will not live much longer. The teacher will eventually figure out the other fifteen students, too. But when the first nine weeks is like a giant riddle, then a lot of time is wasted just figuring everything out.

It is a common misconception that teachers just know things, that information that is given to one teacher one year automatically trickles to the next grade level, but that isn’t always true, especially in the higher grades. Unless your child has needs that have been documented on an IEP, for example, there is a good chance that your child’s new teachers will need you to start from scratch in explaining what might work best. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true. Most schools have not perfected a way to update and transfer this kind of information from teacher to teacher, and I have yet to attend professional development on extrasensory perception, which is surprising since that could be more helpful than some of the PD I have attended throughout my career.

If you have a child in middle or high school, he probably does not want you to talk to the teacher much, if ever at all. He would really prefer that his parents didn’t even know that he has teachers and that his teachers didn’t even know that he has parents. This is totally normal and is a sign of healthy development, really; he should be gaining more independence as he matures. Unless you are planning to be his roommate in college, it is very important for him to start learning to handle some things on his own. This does not mean, however, that you should not communicate with his teachers at all anymore. It just means that you need to learn to operate like a secret agent, and, fortunately for you, e-mail makes that very easy for our generation.

Although older kids suddenly want to tackle everything independently, common sense says that they don’t go from “mom handles everything” to “I’ve got this all by myself” overnight. By the upper grades, your job is to guide your student in addressing her own problems and encourage her to talk to the teacher herself, but it is still your responsibility to inform the teacher of key information and to check in once in a while to see if your child is following through with her responsibilities. In many school districts, you can check your older child’s performance online at any time, which can help you to keep an eye on her academic progress, but that report may not indicate if she spends a lot of time alone, has a negative attitude, or has to be reminded often not to sleep in class. While you might think that those issues would warrant a call from the teacher, keep in mind that the high school teacher may see 150 students in a day, so unless you ask, you may not be notified of a behavior that does not stand out as unsafe, disruptive, or extreme. This is why conferencing with the teacher is still important, even when students are in the upper grades. A teenager who wants to sleep during math class may not trigger an alarm in the mind of the math teacher, but you may see it as a sign that something has changed with your son or daughter.

Here is another reason to communicate openly with your kid’s teacher. When you have limited information and you are trying to solve a riddle, you may make assumptions that are wildly incorrect. Think about this example. You are teaching a high school student who always sits in the back of the classroom. He rarely completes any of his work, doesn’t talk to many other kids, and refuses to explain his lack of effort when you try to talk to him. He appears to be extremely tired day after day and seems to have no support from home. It looks like he just doesn’t care.  You have tried to contact the parents because you are concerned, but you have gotten no response. The same thing is happening in his other classes. What might you conclude? Really, what would you assume?

Did you guess that his father has terminal cancer, that he is exhausted from caring for his father at night while his mom is at work, and that his mother is emotionally overwhelmed and has not had time to return your calls? This information might dramatically change your approach with this student. Every student has a story that impacts his learning, and I, as the teacher, can’t choose the best approach to help him without knowing what that story is. It might surprise you that the school wouldn’t be aware of a story this heartbreaking, but it happens all the time.

We like to think that fair means that all of our children are treated the same, but the truth is that treating everyone the same is not fair. However, your child’s teacher cannot meet your child’s individual needs if you aren’t up front about what is going on in your child’s life. You should know that when you share your private information, your child’s teacher has a responsibility not to share that information with other students or parents. Before you share, you should also know that teachers are mandated reporters, which means that they are legally bound to report if child abuse is suspected, even if that information was shared with them in confidence.

If you want your child to get off to a great start this year, consider sharing any information that might help the teacher meet your child’s needs right off the bat. You have control of the light switch.  Don’t leave the teacher in the dark.

If your child is having a tough day at school, how can you brighten the gloom?
Check out Tip #4 tomorrow!

photo credit: <a href=”″>Create Your Own Light…</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;

Back to School Edition: Tip #2

If you missed the introduction to this series and tip #1, click here!

Back to School Tip of the Day #2

You may not like a teacher’s style, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t work together for the good of your child. Let’s say that you and your child’s teacher really do have totally different approaches to, well, everything. Let’s say that you don’t like the worksheets that she sends home or the way that she organizes her classroom or her dry sense of humor. Let’s say that you have conferenced with her about some of your concerns, but you are convinced that last year’s teacher did everything better. As long as your child’s safety and success are a priority for this teacher, your difference of opinion does not mean that the year is ruined – unless, of course, you choose to look at it that way.  Suck it up, Buttercup. 

This is a tough one, I know, but the reality is that you can be supportive of your child’s teacher even if the two of you are polar opposites. First, remind yourself that there is usually more than one way to the same end result. You may not like the technique, but that doesn’t mean that your child will not learn and grow, maybe even exponentially, this year. Give it some time. Second, remember that this teacher is another human being, not an evil super villain. He is just a guy who is continuing to develop in his career, who has feelings (Can you believe it?), and who faces challenges outside of work, you know, like everyone else. Make an effort to get to know him better. Try offering encouragement when your impulse is to write a nasty note instead. Share your concerns, for sure, but throw in some positive comments to open the lines of communication. Make sure that you are building a bridge and not a wall between you and the teacher. Finally, keep in mind that a teacher is accountable to lots of people – the board of education, school administrators, students, and parents, to name a few. Whatever it is that you don’t like about her classroom, another parent loves. If you think there is too much homework, someone else thinks there is not enough. If you think the teacher is too relaxed, someone else thinks she is too strict. I know that your friends all agree with you when you complain, but I swear this dynamic is true. It may just be necessary to accept that “different” does not necessarily mean “wrong,” and if your child isn’t complaining, then be careful not to project your own frustrations onto him. You want him to be happy, even if you are not.

If your child is complaining about something that bothers you, too, then have an honest, age-appropriate conversation about it. (If you are worried that your child might announce to the class that her mommy says the teacher does everything wrong, then your kid may not be ready for this.) It’s important for older kids to know that adults can work together and respectfully disagree. There have been a couple of occasions when I have said something like this to my frustrated child, “I understand how you feel. I would feel that way, too.  If I were your teacher, I probably wouldn’t do it this way. But I’m not your teacher, and this isn’t my classroom. I have talked to her, and I know that she has reasons for doing things this way, and we both really want you to be successful. It’s okay that we don’t agree. But it’s not okay to be disrespectful or to disobey the rules of her class.” Even when you tell your child that you disagree with the teacher, be sure to emphasize what the two of you do have in common – a commitment to your child’s achievement. Your child shouldn’t have to choose sides.

Although it can be frustrating, it can actually be GOOD for your son or daughter to learn to work with different teachers who have their own unique styles and routines. After all, school is not just about academics. It is a training ground for real life. Being adaptable is a life skill that has helped my husband and I to survive marriage, for example. (I would suggest that one of us has had to endure a little more than the other, and he would agree, although I think he might be applying that to the wrong person.) Anyone who has been employed knows that adaptability is also essential to achieving success at work. If my husband and I had quit a job every time we disagreed with a co-worker, then we would not have been able to afford a new air conditioner this summer, which also might have ended our marriage. I really can’t stress enough how important adaptability is to long-term relationships.  (I’m only partly joking here, people!)

If all else fails, think of it like this. You are Gwyneth Paltrow and the teacher is Chris Martin, and you have vowed to work together for the good of the kids despite your differences. On the bright side, you will only share child rearing with this teacher for a year, while Gwyneth and Chris will be working out their issues until the end of time. See. There is always a silver lining if you search for it.

Come back tomorrow for another back to school tip!  How much should you tell the teacher?

photo credit: <a href=”″>Macro of sharpened colored pencils aranged in a circle</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;

Back To School Edition: Tip #1


Hey, I think I saw you in the school supply section yesterday, grabbing the last blue-Mead-100-page-wide-ruled-spiral-notebook off the shelf just as another mom tried to snatch it up. Oh, how school shopping brings out the best in us! Every August, you and I, we stalk the aisles as if we are on a safari, commissioned to find some rare species on the edge of extinction, and every year I think, “For the love of God, school administrators, can’t we just add some money to our already frustrating school fees and order this stuff in bulk?”

Even though I might, maybe, complain just a little bit about school supply shopping, the truth is that I love it as much as I hate it. I enjoy the ritual of it, the anticipation created by a backpack overflowing with sharpened crayons and undefiled paper and fresh markers. Maybe that’s because I always loved school as a kid, or maybe it’s because I crave a routine after the seduction of summer. Maybe it’s because I see the start of the school year as more symbolic of a new beginning than January 1. (Or maybe it’s because I need some alone time. I really, REALLY need some alone time, people.)

Regardless, we all invest quite a bit of time and money into gathering all of the tangible things that our kids need to get off to a good start at school, but sometimes we forget to think about the intangibles that can make a HUGE difference in the quality of our kids’ year. Somewhere between organizing all of the supplies, planning the first-day attire, and grocery shopping to fill the lunchboxes, it might be a good idea to create a mindset for the school year that will help your child to achieve happiness and success. For that reason, I’ll be sending you one tip a day for the next nine days, some things to ponder as we all prepare for the big first day. And if you are TOTALLY OVERWHELMED by nine posts in nine days, please don’t worry. Once school starts, things at my house speed up and the blog will slooooow down! I promise!  I’ll aim for once a week . . . if I’m lucky!

Back to School Tip of the Day #1

If your first impression of your child’s new teacher is negative, keep it to yourself.  I remember one particular meet-the-teacher experience when I was, well, not impressed. The meeting left me expecting a disappointing year for my son, but, fortunately for us, I later discovered that my first impression had been totally wrong. This teacher turned out to be sweet, creative, and very effective in working with my kid.

The truth is that you can’t really tell what a teacher will be like in the classroom after talking to her for five or ten minutes. (Keep in mind that sometimes talking to parents can be just as intimidating for teachers as talking to teachers can be for parents!) You also can’t predict what your experience with a teacher will be like just from talking to other parents, whose opinions are often based on the opinions of ten-year-olds and, at least partly, on gossip.

But here is the most important point: Even if you don’t think you are going to like the teacher, if you want your child to get off to a great start, you need to put on your happy face when talking about school with your child. You can commiserate privately with a friend. You can schedule a conference with that teacher every week. You can make an appointment with the principal if absolutely necessary. But your goal is to foster a good relationship between your child and that teacher, and this will be virtually impossible if you are badmouthing her in front of your kids or openly venting on Facebook. (Everyone knows that Facebook is where we pretend to be happy, anyway, so just default to that social norm in this situation.) And one more thing to consider: Most “problems” are actually just “miscommunications” that can be easily resolved if you aren’t afraid to raise your concerns in a face-to-face conference with the teacher. Try this before erupting like Mount Vesuvius and see what happens.

What if, after a few weeks of school, you still don’t like the teacher?  Check out Tip #2 tomorrow!

photo credit: <a ef=”″>New York</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;

To the Mom in the Preschool Drop-Off Line


Hello, friends!  Watch for some back-to-school posts on the blog in the next few days!  I am excited that THIS post is also featured on The Today Show Parenting Blog.  Please click here to give me your vote!

To the Mom in the Preschool Drop-Off Line:

I see your child before class, so sweet and small and pure of heart. I see those chubby cheeks, that baby face, reminders that this little person who is growing oh-so-quickly was swaddled in your arms not long ago. I see him clinging to your leg, his knuckles white, his eyes glossy with tears that are just about to spill.

His anxiety is running high, and so is yours, but your acting skills have come a long way this year, Mom. You deserve a round of applause, a standing ovation. You should get an Oscar, really, for pretending that preschool drop-off doesn’t bother you, that helping the teacher peel your crying child off your body one finger at a time is no big deal, that watching the director pull your sobbing little guy from your car doesn’t feel like your heart is being crunched in a vice. You don’t want to make the situation worse, and your child is anxious enough on his own, so you do your best to appear calm every time. You don’t have the minutes or the privacy to meditate before preschool since small children are always running circles around you, but you try to channel your inner yogi while zipping the jackets and buckling the car seats and running back in the house for that thing you forgot.

You start the engine each morning knowing exactly what is going to happen. It’s an uneasy feeling that gets your adrenaline pumping so that this drive to school is somehow similar to dipping your toe into a shark tank or leaping from a plane when you are afraid of heights. You think that maybe it is most like having a tooth pulled. It might be necessary. It might be the right thing to do. It might pay off in the long run. But it is also painful. And you choose to do this three mornings a week. Who has a tooth pulled three times a week? Eventually, you would run out of teeth.

The teachers at school are very nice. They smile. They tell you that, although the first ten minutes are difficult, your child is usually fine after that. He asks about you often and watches the clock, but he has friends and is learning quickly and likes to paint and loves the playground. They really enjoy him, they say, and you know that they do, but you sense frustration. Maybe you should try a sticker chart to encourage him not to sob inconsolably every day? Maybe you should offer a reward if he does not cry for a week when he goes to school? Maybe it would be better if you did not walk him to class but used the drop-off point outside instead?

And you wonder, “Do they honestly think I haven’t tried these things?”

The truth is that you have tried everything. You are still trying everything. You have sought advice from every mom you know. You have read every mommy blog that you can find. You have asked the preschool director and the pediatrician for ideas. No one has found a solution to this problem. And maybe there is no solution because there isn’t a problem. There is a child. Your child. Your child, whom you love to the moon and back, who experiences separation anxiety. Maybe that is just who he is and you cannot change it and it is going to take time for him to learn the strategies he needs to cope. Maybe you need people to understand and accept it. Maybe you need to accept it, too.

You remember that your older son cried once when you left him at preschool. After school, you talked to him. You looked him in the eyes. You asked him why he cried. He wasn’t sure. You asked him if he was afraid at school, if everyone was nice to him. He loved his class and his teachers and his friends. You explained that he was going to go to school whether he cried or not, so wouldn’t it be better to enjoy his time at school? Mommy would pick him up every day, right on time, and she wanted him to have fun with his friends.

He never cried another day.

Other moms told you not to worry. This would last only a few days. He would stop crying when he got into the routine. “It’s normal,” they said. “My kids cried for a few days, too.”

Then they said to give it a few weeks. It would be fine. Really, it would. Maybe their children had been sad a little longer than they had remembered, yes, now that they thought about it, but soon those kids were skipping down the halls in a rush to get to class. “Trust me,” they said. “It won’t last!”

Now they don’t say anything. They just smile, a sideways kind of smile with a cocked eyebrow that shows empathy. But you wonder if they are thinking about where you must have failed as a mother. Because that is what you are thinking. It has to be your fault. Did you hold him too much or too little? Is it because you decided to stay home with him for a few years? That sacrifice seemed selfless at the time, but was it selfish? Is it because you moved, and it took time to trust people, and he was with you, and you only, so much of the time? Did you genetically gift him with your own anxieties?  What a horrible gift. What did you do, and how do you unravel it now? Maybe you need to be more understanding. Maybe you need to be more stern. How do you stop your child’s suffering?

This is the cry of your heart, but you are a smart lady, and your mind knows better. It is not your fault. The pediatrician said that it is not your fault. You know that everyone faces unique challenges that must be overcome, and your children will be no exception. You had just hoped that those challenges would not start so early, with your sweet little boy facing anxiety, real anxiety, at just four years old.

I know that you use the drop-off line, because that is what the teachers asked you to do, and that you smile as the director lovingly drags (because there is no other way) your child from the car. I know that you thank her every day for her patience. I know that it makes you sad to see the line of cars behind you, all of those moms and dads watching your child make his dramatic entrance every day. I know how hopeful you are whenever he has a good day, or a good week, or a good month, and how devastated you feel when a new wave of anxiety consumes him and it all starts again.

I know that when you pull out of the parking lot some days, your stoic façade cracks, and tears stream down your cheeks all the way home.

I know that you are a person who likes to be in control of your life, and it is hard for you to accept that this is out of your control. You want to fix things for your kids, to make them happy, and you cannot fix this. I know that you know that this child is a tremendous blessing and that other parents face greater challenges, but I give you permission to feel what you feel. Your sadness and guilt and anger are real, and problems are all relative, anyway.

I know that it will get better, that your child will grow and he will mature and he will learn about his emotions and how he can cope. He may outgrow his anxiety, or he may not, but he can learn to manage it with time. I know that he will eventually go to school without tears, but it may be a long time before that happens, and that is okay. I know that your child is his own person with his own schedule. I know that you are trying very hard and that you will find loving, supportive friends who will understand. I know that his anxiety does not diminish his kindness, his intelligence, his enthusiasm, and his loving heart. I know that you have an amazing kid.

Most of all, I know that he is really, REALLY lucky to have you on his team.


The Mom Who Won the Oscar for “Best Performance at a Preschool Drop-Off” in 2010