Q&A with Melinda Norris

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  • Certified parenting coach Melinda Norris (Photo provided)

At the start of a school year, the transition from long, lazy days to the hustle and bustle of early mornings, after-school activities, and homework can be a challenge for the whole family - parents included. If you find yourself battling with your school-age children over bedtime, schoolwork, or getting out the door on time, you're not alone.

To ease into the school-year groove, preparation and organization are key, says local parenting coach Melinda Norris. The mother of two grown children, Norris has a degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of South Carolina and is working toward her master's in Social Science at the Citadel. She is also a certified leadership parenting coach for ParentGuru.com, a popular, subscription-based Web site that lets parents get expert advice on everything from potty training to bullies. With a new school year on the horizon, we asked Norris to share her tips to help families start out on the right foot.

What are some easy things parents can do to help get their child's school year off to a good start?

I let my kids have fun in the summer (we kept a loose schedule, if any), but at the end of the summer I started backing up the go-to-bed time and the get-up time so that once it is time to get up (for school) it's not such a shock to the system.

I taught my kids how to use an alarm clock because ultimately it needs to be their responsibility to get up. I'm a big believer in setting clothes and books out the night before, so you're not running around grabbing things in the morning.

And don't forget to leave time to eat, because the healthier the diet, the better the cognitive performance is!

We'd also go through the cafeteria menus and plan out what they'd eat there. Being prepared can make for an easier transition from summer fun to back to school.

What are some tips you give parents about keeping their kids organized and creating good study habits?

A lot of schools have certain subjects on certain days now. They don't have all their subjects every day. This can be a nightmare if you aren't organized.

I recommend having two different book sacks - one for Monday/Wednesday/Friday, and one for Tuesday/Thursday - so you know your child will have the right books and supplies when he needs them.

During the week, it's no TV and no computer games. That way, there isn't a choice to do anything but homework. If they need a break, go outside and get air.

We (at ParentGuru.com) teach the ABC's of homework. "A" is for "All by myself." The teacher shouldn't assign any homework that (requires) help. The child should be in his room in a homework space that's organized and has everything he needs. "B" stands for "Back off" (and that means the parent). If students have legitimate questions, let them get their stuff and go to where mom is. The parent needs to brief and encouraging, but don't give the child the answer. It's OK to give a nudge in the right direction, but remember: It's the teacher's job to teach.

"C" is for "Call it quits." That's means you, the parent, need to set a reasonable amount of time to do homework, and then, that's it. The books go up. I've seen kids who can drag it out for five hours.

What are some good ways to keep your kids engaged in academics?

At home, it's the parents' responsibility to get rid of distractions. Usually around 7th grade is where people run into problems. That's when it happened for my son- he just decided he wasn't going to do homework at all.

We stripped his room of everything but his clothing and bed. He was a stubborn one. Finally he came back and he said, "I want my stuff back!" He started doing his own homework, and graduated with a double major from USC. It took some time, but he learned.

If you can, you need to nip the laziness before high school, because high school is so competitive these days. It could be as simple as getting rid of the TV.

Technology is a big (distraction). If you're letting your kids stay on the computer for too long, it will be harder for them to concentrate on homework or school work because they'll get used to the quickness and instant gratification they get when they're playing games. It's one of the things that contributes to so many ADHD diagnoses now. They're not used to taking time to do things like complete a math problem.

As far as paying attention in school, one of the best things you can do is to lead them properly at home. Teach them to respect adults - especially women, because many school teachers are women.

What are some helpful tips for balancing school with after-school and social activities? How can parents avoid over-scheduling?

That's a huge issue. You have to keep in mind that kids are going to have homework, so time needs to be set aside for that. I allowed my kids to do church plus one (activity). If you don't do church, maybe you can have two things. That way I wasn't running around . chauffeuring my kids to different places, and they weren't overstressed.

I made them choose what meant most to them and that saved us all a lot of grief and a lot of stress. I work with a lot of parents who are going nuts because they can't handle their kids' schedules.

One of the things they need besides that is chores. They need to have responsibility inside the home, just like parents do.

How can parents help their kids deal with stresses at school -school work, peer pressure, bullies, etc.?

Physical exercise is a great way to help them deal with stress. My son eventually earned a black belt in taekwondo. It was a lifesaver because he got all of that stress out physically. Different kids do different things to relieve stress - they might read or play a sport - but they need to have an outlet.

They also have to realize that (bad) things are going to happen, and you have to deal with it. Kids need to learn to deal with unpleasantness. They need to understand that you'll have some kids that like you and some that don't.

As a parent, it's your job to be there for them without trying to solve the problem for them. Kids are sometimes not nice, and it is what it is.

What are some other resources you recommend to parents?

For parents of school-age kids, I recommend the book "Ending the Homework Hassle" by John Rosemond.

Another really good one for later on is "You're On Your Own (But I'm Here if You Need Me): Mentoring Your Child During the College Years" by Marjorie Savage. LCP

Reach Melinda online through ParentGuru.com, or on her Facebook Page, Melinda S. Norris Certified Parent Coach.

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