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Stress-Free Zone

With Your Help, Children Can Do Their Best in School

October 12, 1998|ELAINE ST. JAMES

Stress is a major factor in many of our health-related problems. A key way to reduce stress is to simplify. By reducing clutter, commitments, tasks and expenses, your life will streamline into the Stress Free Zone. Elaine St. James tells us how.


Now that your kids are back in school and you've finished, for the time being, outfitting them with clothes, lunch boxes, knapsacks and notebooks, don't forget to set aside time to take stock of their intellectual, psychological and emotional needs.

A mother I met while I was on tour for my book "Simplify Your Life With Kids," told me that every year at the start of the school year, she and her husband sat down and had a conversation about what they could do to encourage a successful and happy experience for their son. They didn't just leave it up to the teacher and hope for the best. I thought that was a great way to get started.

So here are some ideas for how you can help your child do her best this school year.

(1) Sit down with paper and pen and make a list. What goals do you have for your child's growth this year--not just academically, but in all areas of her life? In what areas does she excel, and how can you encourage her in those areas? Achievement builds self-esteem, so even if your child struggles academically or socially, find at least one thing you know she does well, and create the opportunity for her to shine.

(2) Initiate a conversation with your child about her goals and expectations for the year. What one thing would she like to master? How can you work together to solve a particular difficulty that came up last year--such as a struggle learning, difficulty making friends, or not getting enough sleep?

(3) Establish a relationship with your child's teacher. I've heard parents say that they don't want to "bother" the teacher with their ideas or concerns. Don't buy into the notion that you should stay out of the way. Parents and teachers should be partners. After all, you're the people who care most about your child's happiness and well-being. Don't wait until the quarterly parent-teacher conference or the time the teacher calls home with a complaint to talk about your child.

(4) Don't over-schedule. Many family lives are unbelievably complicated these days because the kids are involved in so many after-school and weekend activities. Parents tell me they think their kids are doing too much, but they're afraid to have them slow down because they're afraid they won't be competitive, or that they'll miss out on something. If you cut back, they will miss out on a few things, but that's OK. The vast improvement in the quality of your lives will more than make up for it. Remember, we can't do it all. One of the best things you can do for your child is to make all of your lives less stressful.

At the beginning of the school year, ask your children to select one or at most two extracurricular activities for the season, and try to make one of those activities sports-related or physical. Sports provide nourishment for the soul as well as for the body, and kids who are involved in sports tend to be more health-conscious, and are far less likely to get involved with drugs, alcohol and delinquent behavior.

If you have trouble drawing the line, set some basic family policies that will provide natural limits. For example, everyone is expected to be home for dinner; homework needs to be finished after school, not left for the evening; each child has a household chore that must be completed every day; and so on.

If your child does well in school, it will simplify life for all of you.


Elaine St. James is the author of "Simplify Your Life" and "Simplify Your Life With Kids." For questions or comments, write to her in care of Universal Press Syndicate, 4520 Main St., Kansas City, MO 64111, or e-mail her at

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