Back to School Strengths Tips

Although most of the country is still sweltering in the throes of summer heat, young people across the nation are thinking about new school supplies and what to wear on that on that anticipated first day of classes.

A new year means a new start and here are some strengths tips that will make the transition back to school easier for you and your child.


Start the year off right by getting to know your child’s teachers. One way to begin to foster positive relationships with teachers is to sit down with your elementary or middle school child and together write your teachers a letter of introduction. In this letter you can include personal information about your family, your child and your hopes for the school year. For example, you may wish to introduce yourself with an anecdote about your most memorable learning experience. Follow this up with a few lines about your greatest hopes for your child’s school year. Introduce your sons or daughters to the teacher by explaining little known facts such as how you chose your child’s name or their favorite books, colors or funniest memory. Do this with your child, so the introduction includes both your voices. By offering little known facts in this manner, the teacher will get to know you and your child in a more a personal way from the start and you will signal that you desire a positive relationship.

Let the teacher know your child’s strengths. List two or three things that your child loves to do and ask the teacher to consider this when interacting with your child. Is your child organized? Talkative? Inquisitive? Every child has strengths they bring to the classroom. When you alert these to the teacher from the get-go, your child and the teacher have a foundation to build on.

Finish your letter by inviting the teacher to write back. Ask the teacher similar questions: what is your favorite book? What was your best learning experience? When did you know you wanted to become a teacher? It is even better if you have the time to have this conversation in person. However, teachers are extremely busy at the start of the year and might welcome the letter instead. Teachers also like to save things about their students and chances are a letter of this kind will become a cherished part of a teacher’s memory folder.


It is estimated that children spend more than 75% of their time in school focused on social interactions. More often than not, the quality of your child’s friendships will be a significant influence in their success in school. You can’t chose your child’s friends, but there are several things you can do to help. Children function best socially when they are open to diversity in their relationships. The idea of a BFF (best friend forever) is an attractive and alluring idea that is often a highway to unhappiness. Because conflict is an inevitable part of new relationships, those children who limit their relationships by declaring BFFs too soon, or latching onto a clique are often isolated as soon as the conflicts occur.

Before school begins, sit with your child and make a list of their strengths. List everything they feel energized by whether it is a sport, a certain subject or an activity such as collecting coins or stickers. Encourage your child to find a different person who shares each one of the strengths. When young people are associated with others around shared interests, there is more opportunity for uninhibited self-expression. The focus of the relationships becomes less about popularity and more about sharing interests. Remind your child often of the importance of connecting with different kinds of children, even if they don’t consider them friends.


Start the year off right by preparing the environment for home study. All children do not study in the same way. You can help your child by determining in advance where and when your child will study at home. Some people can study in the bedroom while others are more focused at the dining room table. Some people can concentrate with music, while others prefer silence. Room temperature can play a part in a child’s ability to focus. Is your child someone who likes it cool or warm? Does the study space accommodate this? Don’t assume that the way you study is the same as your child. Each person learns in a different way.

How do you get your child to focus on homework and not on social networking or computer games? Hopefully the homework they bring home will be engaging, active and involve others but you can’t count on that. Making deals or contracts about computer use in relationship to studying or homework can be effective. Rather than disallowing all computer use until the homework is finished, try breaking the study time up between school tasks and free time. Agree that a half hour of study may be followed by a half hour of computer or television. When you make deals and not only demands, young people tend to be more cooperative.


Listen carefully to your child. Adults have a tendency to want to give advice rather than listen to a child’s experience. If you can do one thing to foster your children’s successes it will be to listen to their experiences. Rather than asking your child what he learned in school that day, ask him to tell you a story of the funniest thing that happened, what surprised him most, or to describe the best interaction with someone. The quality of the questions parents ask their children will determine the level of response. Young people tend to open up when they believe adults are genuinely interested in their experiences. Don’t judge what your child tells you. Instead, follow up with more questions and comments as to what they said. Listen for your child’s uniqueness and individual experience with learning and school. When these interactions become regularly integrated into your daily routine, your child will see you are truly invested in his or her learning rather than simply wanting them to get good grades. Good grades are never as important as true engagement in learning.

The more you seek out what is unique about your child and begin to see these individual qualities as strengths to be shared, the more successful your child will be socially and in school. If you begin the year on a proactive note, showing your child and your child’s teachers that you are part of the learning relationship– then the chances increase for your child’s success in school.

Jenifer Fox is an internationally published author, educational keynote speaker and leading innovator on 21st Century Learning. Her groundbreaking book, Your Child’s Strengths, a Guide for Teachers and Parents (Viking/Penguin) is widely accepted as the definitive guide to developing success through a focus on strengths for children. Jenifer authored The Differentiated Instruction Book of Lists (Wiley) and has created Differentiated Instruction, an online professional course for teachers.

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