New School Year’s Resolution: Stay Calm


by Dr. Richard Selznick~It’s that time again. The time when that little knot in your stomach is forming with the start of the new school year and you are reading various articles on the top tips for your kid having a great year.

Here’s my number one tip-resolve to stay calm.

As the school year progresses, school problems result in a considerable degree of tension, anxiety and all around family frustration. This is particularly true for many families of special needs kids who are struggling with different aspects of school.  There are all kinds of dilemmas that emerge regarding homework and the child’s challenges with meeting all of the expectations put upon him or her.

Most of the yelling and reactivity is unproductive. As an alternative to the yelling and all of the reactive stress with your child, practice a different style of talking that puts responsibility where it belongs – on your child. Even with children who have special needs, a certain percentage of the work and the homework expectations should be managed by the child with you close by as “homework consultant.”

When utilizing this style, you are speaking to the child in matter-of-fact tones. Effectively, your approach in terms of dealing with school problems would be more objective and less reactive.

A child I saw recently, moody Amy, age 14, is a good example of this in action. In the previous year, Amy’s parents spent a lot of time and money taking her to tutoring, much to Amy’s dismay and resistance. Amy wasn’t happy about the tutoring, primarily because it interfered with her all-important Instagram time.  Each week, right on cue when it was time to get ready for tutoring, Amy gave her parents an extremely hard time about going. In response, her parents engaged in yelling and screaming matches, trying to get the resistant Amy to comply. It was not a pretty picture. Such a scene occurred twice a week over the course of the previous year.

When the beleaguered parents talked to me about it, I suggested to them that they adopt an either-or posture with Amy. Rather than go through all the hoops to get Amy to comply, they were coached to say something like the following:

“Amy, we know school has been hard. We’ve tried to get to help. However, you resisted tutoring and gave us grief about going. We then started yelling and screaming at you.  This made the household miserable. This is going to stop. We are not going to yell about it anymore. Either you approach tutoring with a reasonable attitude, or you are on your own with your school work. You decide. Either way is okay.”

The same matter-of-fact communication style can also apply to homework resistance. In situations where the child can legitimately manage the homework and is not given frustration level material, it really is the child’s responsibility. Setting boundaries in clear, objective tones goes a long way.  If the material given is beyond the child’s ability level, then this is inappropriate for the child.  It becomes a different story entirely.

So, as this school year begins and you know what lies ahead, resolve to end the shenanigans. Stop the yelling, and calmly put responsibility where it belongs.

Takeaway Point

Trying to stay calm  is very hard when school buttons get pushed.  Set this matter-of-fact, objective style as a goal for you for the coming year. A great deal of what goes on in households with children can be treated in more black-and-white tones. This enables the child to deal with the natural consequences that follow.

Adapted from “School Struggles,”  Richard Selznick, Ph.D. (Sentient Publications 2012).

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About Dr. Richard Selznick

Dr. Richard Selznick is a psychologist, nationally certified school psychologist, assistant professor of pediatrics and school consultant. Dr. Selznick is the Director of the Cooper Learning Center, a Division of the Department of Pediatrics/ Cooper University Healthcare. The author of two books, The Shut-Down Learner: Helping Your Academically Discouraged Child and the more recently published School Struggles: A Guide To Your Shut-Down Learner’s Success, Dr. Selznick has presented to parents and educators internationally, as far as Dubai and Abu Dhabi and throughout the United States. Learn more about Dr. Selznick at

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