This story is featured in the July/August issue of ESSENCE, on newsstands now.
Supply lists, syllabus requirements and extracurricular plans—oh my! While we can’t lessen the many demands and responsibilities that come with the back-to-school season, we can suggest ways to reframe your approach. We tapped a team of professionals for tips on everything from reducing anxiety to building good relationships with teachers, to help you and your student ace the academic year.
Since the pandemic began, technology has been a vital tool for education. Velrastine Shaw, a teacher at Pebblebrook High School in Mableton, Georgia, sees overwhelmed parents who feel out of the loop. Technology can help them stay connected to educators. “Sending a short email—like, ‘Miss Shaw, I’m reaching out to make sure everything is okay’—can make a huge difference,” she says. “Students know somebody is checking in on them, outside of us.”
Ward off Stress
A survey done by the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago in 2020 found that kids are more stressed than ever. If you notice changes in their mood or behavior, or they’re starting to isolate themselves a bit more, try having deeper conversations with them, says Erlanger Turner, Ph.D., psychologist and founder of Therapy for Black Kids. “It’s important to be really direct,” he explains. “Ask, ‘Did something happen at school that made you angry today?’”
Parental expectations can also be a source of stress for students. “Encouraging kids to do their best is one thing, but pressuring them to get all As is a different story,” Turner says. Instead, support things they have an interest in—and practice flexibility. “If things don’t go the way that they thought, it’s going to increase their level of frustration,” he adds. “You don’t want to set them up to have these rigid expectations about life or the school year.”
Advocate for Your Child
Lakeya Omogun, Ph.D., professor of language, literacy and culture at the University of Washington, suggests ways to speak up for your kids.
- If there’s a cultural or racial mismatch, initiate discussions. “Let teachers know who your children are, rather than letting them make their own assumptions,” she says.
- Inform educators of your child’s personality traits. “Say, ‘This is what my child enjoys’ or ‘Sometimes he can get a little bit jittery,’” she advises.
- Offer strategies for challenging moments, like “‘If this happens, these are things that you could do to help,’” Omogun says. “Get to it before teachers do.”
Lighten Your Load
The desire to exemplify Black excellence can leave parents pushing to pursue every opportunity, for themselves and their brood. “You want to overcompensate and make sure your children have a chance to do everything, even at the expense of your own energy and sanity,” says Christina Garrett, productivity coach and women’s wellness advocate. “It’s okay to say, ‘We don’t have the bandwidth to do it all.’”
In fact, understanding your limitations can help you see the value in delegating tasks. Perhaps you can hire a cleaning service so you have time to help with homework, Garrett says—or you can ask relatives to assist with after-school activities. She also suggests leveling with your kids. “Saying, ‘We get tired and overworked, and sometimes I need to show you that so you can adjust your expectations of me,’” can help them manage their stress, too. “It’s healthy for parents and kids to have downtime,” she adds. “It’s healthy not to overschedule yourself.”
To share your kids’ schedule with your coparenting partner effectively during the school year, more than communication is needed. “Start with what I call a back-to-school contract,” suggests Petal Modeste, J.D., associate dean at Columbia Law School and host of the podcast Parenting for the Future. “The reason I call it a contract is, the partners need to agree that this is how it’s going to play out.” All responsibilities and eventualities should be covered by the contract, she advises, no matter how seemingly small they are. Everything from pick-up and drop-off schedules to nonnegotiable time for self-care should be established. The goal, Modeste explains, is that “by the time school rolls around, there is no mystery, there is no confusion, there is no fighting, because everybody knows what their job is and what they are contractually obligated to do.”
Educator Velrastine Shaw shares how parents can use technology to their advantage
- Get school-approved apps like Remind that allow for secure messaging between parents, students and teachers—so everyone is on the same page.
- Can’t make it to parent–teacher night? Set up video meetings, to get face time with teachers at a mutually convenient point.
- Some teachers create social media accounts for their classes. Parents can follow along with lessons and get tips on offering support at home.
Make It Work
Amid your child’s after-school activities and athletic events, your own work obligations remain. Making a schedule of extracurriculars for the school year—and communicating that schedule to your employer—is necessary. “Let your manager know, ‘I need to be at soccer practice from five to six,’” says Cheryl Grace, corporate expert and career coach. Assure your boss that once the kids are settled, you’ll come back and finish what must be done. “You want to be sure to set boundaries,” she notes, “but you also want to be very clear that you’re not going to drop the ball.”