Do you feel like you are always rushing? Is there a lot of yelling going on at your house? Take the opportunity of a new school year to rethink your family’s activities.

We asked our consulting advisors who regularly answer our Ask the Experts questions in our grade-by-grade newsletters for their thoughts on how families can start the school year off right for success at home and at school. Here’s what they had to say:

Dr. Ron Taffel, a New York-based child and family therapist, and author of Parenting by Heart, Why Parents Disagree, Nurturing Good Children Now, The Second Family, and a guide for child professionals, Getting Through to Difficult Kids and Parents, offers these suggested New Year’s resolutions:

Listen without fixing.

Just once during the first two weeks of the new year, resolve to listen to your child’s story about something that happened in school without immediately “fixing” the problem, interrupting or teaching a constructive lesson. Concentrate on listening first and then later on, when you and your child are both calmer, give advice or guidance and keep it short, very short!

Make a habit of finding time to talk and listen.

Pay attention to the times of day your child is most naturally open, whether it be during after-school snack, while watching TV, at bath or bed time, and protect those times as very special. In the new year, get in the habit of talking and listening for just a few minutes a day.

Debra Collins, a California-based licensed marriage and family therapist who has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor, suggests the following:

For Parents of Young Children

Try not to overextend.

Make an effort to limit activities for your kids, especially younger kids – one or two activities are enough, especially for parents with more than one child. Otherwise, it causes stress all around.

If you have a child with special needs, he may already be getting extra services at school, such as working with a learning specialist and/or a tutor. If you add on more than one or two extracurricular activities, you’ll have overload.

For Parents of Adolescents

Get involved.

Once your child hits middle school, it’s harder to stay involved at his school. Your child may not want you around as much and there may be fewer opportunities to volunteer. Make a new year’s resolution to get involved with your school’s PTA, parent education forums, or start an independent support group with parents of your child’s friends. If your school doesn’t offer parent education forums, ask your principal about organizing one.

Take small steps toward giving your adolescent independence.

As children want freedom, parents tend to hold on tighter and tighter, which creates conflict. Let your child achieve small successes. For example, start out your teen driver driving short distances and gradually build up to longer trips. Or if your child wants a later curfew, give him a chance to show he is responsible by giving him a slightly later curfew. Tell him you’ll extend it after he has met his current curfew for a specified period of time, and also consistently keeps you informed about where he is and who he is with.

Learn to listen to your child with your ears and not your mouth.

Make an effort to remain calm, slow down and listen to find out what your child is really asking before jumping in with an answer.

Dr. Ruth Jacoby, a Florida educator, principal, educational consultant and author, (most recently of Parent Talk!: The Art of Effective Communication With the School and Your Child) had the following suggestions:

Think about what you can you do to make your family daily life go more smoothly.

What bothers you? What bothers your child? What in your family life needs adjusting? Role play a conversation in your head in advance so you know what you want to accomplish. Once you sit down with your child, discuss the situation and what each of you can do to make it better. You may want to write a contract and have both parent and child sign it. Be sure to write your contract according to your child’s and your family’s needs. Here are a few suggestions:

  • I will do my homework at four o’clock daily so my mom won’t have to bug me about it.
  • I will put my dirty clothes in the hamper.
  • I will eat a healthy snack when I get home from school and my mom will allow me to help her prepare it.
  • I will study a little each night and my mom will help me study on Thursday night by asking questions from the textbook.

Use driving time to play some educational games.

Whether driving to school, an after-school activity or to a friend’s house, you can make the ride fun by playing some games and exercising their brains. Try “I Spy,” a game that is great for developing descriptive vocabulary, particularly for young children.You play by describing an object that you see out of the window and ask your child to “spy” or spot it.

For example: “I see a yellow vehicle that has children in it.” Your child would guess, “A school bus.” Then it becomes her turn to describe an object and you have to “spy” it.

Another game to try is Geography, where you say a state, country or city. Your child then has to figure out the last letter of the word and say a new location using that last letter. For example: You say Texas and now it is his turn and he has to say a new location that begins with “s” like San Antonio.

Dr. Susan Goldman, a New York-based child and family psychologist, and staff member of Social Bridges, a social skills program for children and adolescents located in Florida and New York, offers this tip:

Schedule time to relax.

Too many things on your family “to do” list? Consider adding one more to your list this year: relaxation! Schedule a family Saturday night at the movies at home. Consider renting a classic family movie such as “Wizard of Oz,” “National Velvet” or films of more recent vintage such as “E.T.” or “Shrek.” Make popcorn, curl up on the couch and turn off the computer, cell phone and video games. Enjoy!

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