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Back to School
Column by Gail Grenier Sweet, founder of HOPE Network

When the school bell rings at the end of summer, we mothers face a mix of emotions. Among them is a feeling of RESPONSIBILITY.... Our children are in school. This time is critical for the formation of their knowledge base as well as for their self-esteem, the base of mental health. What can we do to help?

I have taught school children on and off since 1972, and I have these suggestions for mothers:

(1) LOVE your child. LOVE is spelled T-I-M-E. Love is more important than name-brand clothing and "stuff." Explain this principle, clearly and often.

(2) Spend some of that TIME every day with a big hug and a smile for your child, before and after school and before bed.

(3) Spend some of that time reminding your child that now is the time for responsibility. That means promptness, bringing pencils and paper to every class, respect for teachers, oneself and other children.

(4) Spend some of that time encouraging good study skills. Helping with homework is simple. Don't "hover"; just get your child started, and then come back now and then for questions and for checking on progress. Make sure your child has a comfortable chair and writing surface with plenty of light and few distractions. Some students can work with quiet music, some cannot. TV IS OUT!

(5) READ to your child. There is no upper age limit on this. Even high school students benefit from having news items read from the newspaper. Your child's teacher or public librarian can show you age-appropriate high-interest books. Studies have shown that your own example as a reader is the clearest indicator that your child will be a reader in the future! Children have to read in EVERY class.

(6) Establish clear routines and stick with them unless reasonable adjustments are needed. Kids love order; it makes them feel safe. They might benefit from some "down" time after school, with homework or study or reading following supper.

(7) Limit TV to no more than one hour per day or as close as you can get to that. In our house, the TV is only on for Packer games and Olympic ice skating. I believe we all benefit in family closeness and in time spent READING.

(8) TALK to your child. Lie on his or her bed and gently invite discussion about the school day. Brain- storm about how to solve problems that might come up. Share your wisdom on how to get along with people. Be free with your praise for challenges met. Laugh together.

Establish clear routines and stick with them unless reasonable adjustments are needed. Kids love order; it makes them feel safe.

(9) Attend every open house and parent-teacher meeting or if you cannot, delegate this important duty to a trusted relative or friend. Be in touch!

(10) Volunteer in the school, even if only once in a school year, if you can.

(11) Make sure your child faces each new day with a solid breakfast and carrying a healthy lunch, or plan for lunch. Kids fall asleep in school if they don't have enough food.

(12) Be your child's advocate. Recognize that, yes, your child can do wrong, but also be ready to nip problems in the bud. Don't be afraid to rationally and reasonably bring up problems with the teacher, guidance counselor or principal. Then listen to both sides.

(13) LOVE your child. Make time to play and laugh together.

Good luck!

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