Balancing School and Social Life

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The key to balancing school and social life seems to be the Holy Grail of parenthood. Parents often cite a conflict between each. Put your child in too many activities, and see a decline in academic performance. Focus solely on academics, and you sacrifice a well-rounded child. With colleges looking at factors beyond a solid grade point average, parents have been working to support a child with a strong academic background as well as other skills and talents. Balancing school and a social life is one key to supporting such a child without having to forgo one for the other.

Sleep! This is easier said than done. Keep in mind that you and your child can only accomplish so much in one day. Be proud of all that you did in a day and get your family to bed at an early time. You know how much sleep your child needs to operate at his best. Also remember that the more tired your child is, the harder it is for him to concentrate. Assignments will take longer to complete the later he stays up. It may be to his benefit to go to bed at his normal time and get up a few minutes early to complete his assignment. A good night's sleep should never be sacrificed.

Stick to the routine...then change itMany families establish routines in the beginning of the school year with the good intentions of maintaining them through June. The key to establishing successful routines is to recognize when your families' needs have changed and when the routine needs to change. Stop banging your head against the wall if the schedule is not working. For example, Dad may have helped with homework but now is going to run the carpool to soccer because he gets home later from work. Changing your routine doesn't mean you have failed- it means you are in tune with how best to manage your family. Make sure that you have a family meeting to notify everyone of the changes and to troubleshoot any possible conflicts. Also, be sure not to change routines too often. Your children will get confused with frequent changes, which defeats the purpose of having a routine.

First work, then playStaying on top of long term projects and upcoming tests will help you and your child structure his time. Getting work done early allows free time at the end of the week. Sometimes doing work at the last minute makes us feel busier than we actually are. Working on a long-term assignment for even 10 minutes a day is better than leaving it until Sunday, when you should be spending quality time with your family. Set a goal for your child in regards to homework and studying. Tell him if he finished a certain percentage or piece of his assignment he can have a playdate or sleepover on the weekend. Help him make the correlation between "First work, then play." This will benefit him now as a student and later as an adult.

Schedule unscheduled time! Set aside time where you have absolutely nothing scheduled! This doesn't mean you have to stay home. It could mean that you wake up every Sunday morning and see what your family is in the mood to do that day. Leaving free time is so important for your family- emotionally and physically. Children have lots of energy and you may worry about hearing "I'm bored" but everyone needs some time to just relax. This is very important as your child becomes more involved in extra-curricular activities and sports.

You may set boundaries for your family but other parents can ambush your plans. Most parents have been caught off guard when a child's friend asks for a sleepover. Your child inevitably begs and pleads and promises to get up on time for softball practice the next day. Sometimes being proactive and setting an example will let people know what you are comfortable with. For example, if your child asks for a friend to come over for a playdate, approach the parent alone. Say "Kate is going to ask Danielle if she wants to come over tomorrow. I wanted to give you a heads up- I know I don't like surprises!" If you are comfortable speaking directly to the parent, let them know that you would appreciate a call ahead of time so that you can check your schedule and work something out. It is also perfectly acceptable for your child to hear "No" sometimes so if you feel a sleepover will wreak havoc on your weekend plans, be confident in scheduling it for another time. Be prepared for the whining and protesting that may ensue and stick to your decision!

Don't feel bad about saying "Next time" to friends and family. You know when your family has reached its max and absolutely cannot survive another birthday party, movie night, or barbeque.

Pay attention to your child's signs of stress. Some children become withdrawn while others become irritable. Make sure you keep an eye for your child's signs and act accordingly. You may need to cancel an event or just schedule a fun activity to balance out others. The key to balancing school and social life is being flexible and always keeping your child's physical and emotional health as the top proiority.

Jennifer Cerbasi teaches at a public school for children on the autism spectrum in New Jersey. As a coordinator of Applied Behavioral Analysis programs in the home, she works with parents to create and implement behavioral plans for their children in an environment that fosters both academic and social growth. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.