How to Be Happier this School Year

What if I told you that your family can learn how to be happier this school year. What do I mean? Well, three common areas that drain happiness from a family during the school year are unmet expectations, organizational chaos, and procrastination. I am continually nagging my teenage son about homework. My children are always losing important papers. My daughter never studies until the night before a test. Sound about right? While happiness cannot be bought, happiness can be learned! We could get very philosophical, psychological or even spiritual with this topic so to keep it simple, let’s get practical.

Here are three situations that can cause strife and unrest at home and three solutions that can bring peace and relief to your family.

Three Solutions to a Happier Family

Clear Expectations

Situation 1: My son is a freshman in high school and I feel like I’m constantly asking him about his homework and grades. I’m always telling him to leave earlier for school. I get so frustrated when he has plans with friends but hasn’t studied for his classes. I would love to feel like we are on the same team, but I can’t help him if he doesn’t tell me what is going on.

Solution: So often the source of this kind of frustration and anger is unclear expectations. The first step towards clear expectations is reflection. Ask yourself, what do I expect of my child this school year? And then ask your child, what do I expect of you this school year? It might surprise you what they come up with (or don’t come up with)! Don’t get impatient with your child or yourself if there are disparate answers. Maybe they haven’t listened in the past. Maybe you didn’t communicate expectations in a way that they could hear. Regardless, now is the time to take another step forward.

The second step towards clear expectations is communication. In Lindsay Zoeller’s book, “Busy Parents, Happy Kids“, she writes about communicating expectations that “acknowledges personal responsibility and yet shows understanding” (p. 55). Be specific about your expectations for your child this school year. What time are they to leave for school? Are there certain responsibilities they have to care for before hanging out with friends? What grades, effort or progress is expected for this particular child? When are they to get to sleep? Make a list or visual reminder of these expectations so you and your child can refer to it when life inevitably gets you off track.

Organization Systems

Situation 2: My daughter is now in middle school and is really struggling with managing multiple classes and assignments from different teachers. Her backpack is a mess, she is losing papers and forgetting to turn in assignments she already completed. She’s a smart kid and enjoys all her extracurriculars but is feeling really defeated when it comes to school.

Solution: Nothing wreaks more havoc on a busy schedule than disorganization. Creating a system that is easy to use for your child and that your child is committed to using is key. It can be folders, a portfolio, or a 3-tier paper organizer for at home. Be sure to clearly label whatever system you decide upon. Then, maintain that system at least once a week. Make a checklist that includes emptying backpack of loose papers, filing completed homework, and throwing out trash.

Finally, visualize with your child how they will use the system while at school. We know from brain science that each time we do an action related to new habit formation, our brain makes stronger and stronger associations and neural pathways. But not only this, according to Psychology of Habit by Wendy Wood and Dennis Ruenger, the mental exercise of walking through each step of a new habit can shift the likelihood of forming this new habit from unlikely to very likely over time. Visualization is key to supporting strong procedural memory, key to maintaining organization systems, and key to a happier you!

Get Curious about Motivation

Situation 3: My daughter is a Junior in high school, has ADHD and can’t seem to get motivated to apply to colleges. She has lots of goals and interests that she wants to pursue but studying for the ACT, choosing colleges to visit and working on college essays is like pulling teeth. We end up fighting and I make threats I have no intention of following through on.

Solution: When it comes to academic success, there are lots and lots of things that ARE NOT FUN. Not only are they not fun but they require so many skills that are only just developing in children. So, when procrastination gets to be a drain on happiness, get CURIOUS about motivation. What motivates your child? What motivates you? Use the academic setting as an opportunity to experiment with what engages your child’s brain and focus.

Here are some strategies to try:

  • Make connections to long-term goals, passions, values and purpose
  • Break down each task into small steps and assign a deadline to each step
  • Use timers to create a sense of urgency
  • Be available for body-doubling (when your child just needs someone else’s presence – not assistance – while they do a task that is difficult)
  • Gamify study sessions
  • Figure out what kind of stimulation is helpful for your child when studying

Finally, if you choose to hire a tutor or a coach they should be able to help you and your family understand the ADHD brain and other brain-based challenges.

Choosing Happier Solutions

Life is busy and stress is expected. However, I hope this post is a helpful reminder that you can create a happier solution to your family’s challenges this school year. It isn’t about perfection, it’s about being creative, collaborative, and communicative together. Share how you are choosing happiness below!

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