, Salem, MA

January 17, 2014

Gearing up for the second half of the school year

Dr. Kate's Parent Rap
Dr. Kate Roberts

---- — The second half of the school year is typically more challenging than the first. Parents are more tired, kids are coming off one break, only to head into two more, and in between, they have school exams and MCAS exams. Also, the school curriculum typically is more challenging during the second half of the school year. Oh, and don’t forget the dreaded school projects coming down the pike.

Back in September, the kids were coming off a summer break and excited to go back to school to see their friends and learn what the new year would be like. Many were optimistic that whatever wasn’t so great the previous year would be better this year. In January, kids already know what to expect, and whatever isn’t so great, they have to endure until June, when school breaks for the summer.

How can parents motivate their kids to stay engaged and actually ramp up their efforts during this more intense remainder of the school year? And how can parents keep their own energy levels up when they are juggling even more than they were during the past four months?

It seems everything comes at once between now and June, and parents have to see it all through and make sure their kids are successful despite the increasing frenzy and pace. How can parents approach this portion of the year and be more successful than last year, while still keeping sane, calm and connected? Here are some tips to help you start now:

1. Identify what’s working and what isn’t. Evaluate now what’s gone well and what hasn’t thus far and choose a couple of areas that you think need improvement. Review your children’s goals with them and ask them what they think. Questions to ask are things like: Is the routine working, are my kids in bed on time, are they getting enough activity, are they maintaining their daily habits of reading, chores and social life, etc.

2. Establish an action plan. Look at what needs improvement and pick two or three priority areas. Make plans as to how to address these and then present them to your children. Maybe they need to practice their instruments more, or to review their homework more carefully. Address these concerns with your children and together develop a plan for improving things.

3. Stay on top of things. The things that are going well need to be managed more closely during this half of the school year. Perhaps you haven’t needed to check the homework planners daily or the teachers’ websites, but this half of the school year, you need to be more on top of things. It’s not a good time to play catchup — things will pile up, and you need to keep a steady pace for your own sanity and to stay ahead of the curve for your kids.

4. Project planning. Don’t let school projects leave your family crippled from conflict and all-nighters. Talk to your children about keeping pace and how, because this part of the school year is busier, you all need to work together to be in front of any challenges instead of behind them. Let them know you’ll be asking them to jump-start projects that may not be due for a while because you want to avoid falling behind, leaving you frantic and impatient with them. Remind them of what that’s like and they won’t balk too much.

5. Stay well. Do everything you can to keep healthy. If you do get sick or if one of your children is sick, accept it and rest until people are healthy. There is no point in fighting illness — it only prolongs it.

6. Practice saying NO. Get a “NO” button if you have to. You will have to limit other activities more as things get busier between now and summer. Even with this, recognize that some days may be longer, and there may be even more squeezed into less time. Being prepared for the frenzy is easier than being blindsided. Try to prevent this, but it may happen.

7. Always take care of yourself. Exercise to keep your energy high and mood positive. When more is crammed into the same amount of time, many parents forgo their own self-care in order to fit in the extra stuff. Don’t do that. Exercise whenever you can; it may be during part of your kid’s sports game or instead of making a home-cooked meal, get takeout and use that 30 minutes to go for a walk. Have your kids do homework in the after-school clubs and pick them up an hour later while you exercise. You won’t be shortchanging your children; instead, you’ll be giving them a happy parent. When you feel good and in control, think about how much easier it is to manage all that’s on your plate and theirs, and remember this during the (sometimes nightmarish) second half of the school year.

Dr. Kate Roberts is a psychologist and parent coach on the North Shore. Learn more at,, or