[13] How to support your teenager at the start of the school year

We're still very early in the academic year so I thought that now would be a good time to share some ideas about how to support your teenager to make sure that they're getting off to a good start. If you help them to lay good foundations for academic work now the effects will last right through until exam season.

How to support your teenager at the start of the school year

Before we dive into the tips I've got for you I just want to talk a bit about how I see your role as a parent. I'd love to get your thoughts on this as well.

During exam season last year there was some discussion in my Facebook group for parents, the Supportive Parents, Successful Students community, about the role of parents. I also talked about this in episode 2 of the podcast, What Makes a Supportive Parent?

Ultimately I believe that your son or daughter is responsible for doing their best at school and in their GCSEs and A Levels. Your job is to demonstrate that you value education and that they should too, and provide support emotionally, nutritionally and in the resources that you provide to your child. As they say, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.

With this in mind let's think about how you can support your teenager at the start of the school year.

1) Your values and attitudes

Let them know that you love them

This might be really obvious to you – but you need to make sure that your child knows that they're loved, no matter what, and that your love for them certainly isn't conditional on how they do at school. Everyday ways to show that you love them include:

  • Saying ‘I love you'
  • Looking them in the eyes to have a conversation with them
  • Doing something together that you both enjoy

Show that you value education and learning

When you show your child that what goes on at school really matters to you, you're showing them that education should be valued.

One way you can do this is by showing an strong interest in their days at school. A favourite question of mine is to ask, ‘What did you learn today?' to give them a chance to talk about interesting things. Asking this during the family evening meal gives everyone a chance to hear about each others' days and develop a discussion about what everyone is learning.

Another way you can do this is by letting your children see that you always take time to read communication that comes home from school – whether this is a newsletter or communication from teachers in your child's planner, or even by email.

Making sure you make time to go to parents' evenings and information evenings e.g. options evenings or UCAS information events is also important.

Finally, you might plan to take a family trip at half-term that will compliment some aspect of your child's learning. For example, if they're learning about World War Two you might go to a local or national museum that tells stories of this period of history.

Create clear boundaries

When you've got clear boundaries for behaviour and expectations of your child you will automatically get better results. If you're interested in finding out more about behaviour management check out episode 4 of the podcast with Anne Goldsmith, How to Manage Your Teens' Behaviour.

Here are some quick tips I learned in the classroom about setting boundaries:

  • Make your expectations clear before something happens, not during or after. So, if you're going to be home late spell out how you expect your teen to behave and what they need to do while you're out.
  • If you threaten a consequence, follow through. If you don't your child will learn that you don't mean what you say and keep testing you to see how far they can push you.
  • Make your instructions clear, don't turn them into questions or choices.

2) Communicate with them

Making sure that you and your teenager can communicate freely and easily with each other is really important at the start of the academic year. If you set this pattern now you'll still be able to communicate with each other as things get more stressful towards revision and exam season. Here are some questions that you could ask at the beginning of the academic year:

  • Have you got any new teachers this year?
  • What are your teachers' names this year? Which ones do you like?
  • How's [insert name of subject] going?
  • Did you learn anything interesting today?
  • What topic are you doing in [insert name of topic]?
  • How are you feeling about your [insert name of topic]?
  • Which of your friends are in your classes?
  • What's changed about the school day this year?
  • What's been more challenging or difficult today or this week?

I'm sure you can think of other things but you get my drift – ask open-ended questions that they have to answer with more than one word to get the conversation going.

3) Resources and environment

One of the most practical ways you can help and support your child at the start of the academic year is to make sure they've got everything they need to study well. This includes having the right stationery (check out my blog post, The Essential Back to School Stationery List). At minimum, your child should be going to school everyday with a pen, pencil and ruler.

You might also need to provide a laptop or tablet for your child to use in lessons. Books are another thing that you will want to make sure they've got – so make sure they've got access to the text books that they need.

Finally, make sure they've got somewhere comfortable and quiet to study. I remember going with my mum to a second hand office furniture shop at the start of the sixth form and buying a huge desk. It took up most of my room but it had loads of drawers to store things in and lots of space to spread out with a text book and an exercise book on top. You will also want to think about the chair that they sit on, making sure they have good posture and that the environment is pleasant to work in. You can get really creative with this if you want to!

4) Help them to establish good habits and routines

During the summer holidays any good study habits and routines that your child may have developed will have gone out of the window. It won't be easy to re-establish them again, or start them for the first time and your child may well need to your help to do this.

Here are some habits and routines that I would recommend starting right at the beginning of the school year:

  • Reading through all lesson notes at the end of the day
  • Doing five minutes of revision every day
  • File all notes at the end of the week
  • Packing their bag for school the night before
  • Keeping a record of all the feedback they get for each subject

We will go into how to adopt good habits and routines, and think about more personal ones for each student, in my course The Exam Success Formula. In the meantime you can be your child's accountability partner for doing these things, or get them to use a habit tracking app like Done to incentivise them to stick with their habits.

5) Time management

Very strongly linked with habits and routines is time management. All good students will consistently do the right amount of work each week. By creating a study timetable they won't leave this up to chance. For more details about how to make a study timetable check out this blog post, The Weekly Routine of a Straight A Student. On my course, The Exam Success Formula, we'll be creating a study timetable like this and thinking very deeply about how to make your child's study routine sustainable in the long-term as well as ensuring that it truly reflects their priorities. You will be encouraged to work with them to create this routine and be their accountability partner to make sure that they stick to it.

Conclusion

I really hope that's given you some good ideas about how to support your teenager right at the start of the school year. If you think I've missed anything or you'd like to chat about any of these things then please:

Want to know more about The Exam Success Formula?

The Exam Successful Formula is my eight week course for students and parents that teaches the study skills, habits and mindset to ensure your child reaches their academic potential. It's really all about making sure that both of you understand what it takes to get the top grades and putting the pieces in place, bit by bit, to make it happen. Class starts this Saturday (16th September 2017) and you have until Friday 15th September at 9pm to sign up. Find out more about the course and sign up on the information page for The Exam Success Formula.

 

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