By now school is back in session for most families and with it a massive transition. Most children, and their parents, look forward to the new school year, but for others it can be a time of anxiety and dread. Some struggle academically; others are bullied or made fun of or are socially excluded.

For everybody it is a time of change in schedules, expectations, and work load.

Here are a few things to consider as we try to make this a safe and satisfying school year.


  1. Have frequent “state of the union” family meetings where you check in with one another, list what went well today or this week, what was hurtful, where we failed, and what our goals are for the next day or week. Encourage your children to express what they are feeling and experiencing. Ask open-ended questions. Make this a fun and safe time. I highly encourage families to eat together, without devices.
  2. The beginning of the school year is a good time to assess your family goals, evaluate your schedule, and avoid overscheduling, so everyone has time to play, relax, talk.
  3. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggest that children ages 6-12 need 9-12 hours of sleep, and teens require 8-10, to maximize academic performance, maintain emotional equilibrium, and stay healthy. Establish a consistent bedtime routine.
  4. There is growing major concern regarding the devastatingly negative impact of social media, not just on children but also on marriages and family life. Social media sets up an artificial environment that impedes genuine social interaction, encourages bullying and unrealistic expectations, and wastes an incredible amount of time, to name a few. There is a Catholic movement that is encouraging families to shut off their devices three nights a week as well as every Sunday. Do not let your children go to their rooms with their screens.
  5. Don’t forget that social-emotional learning is as important as academic learning. And the most important education our children can learn are the virtues — such as patience, respect, kindness, diligence, and humility.
  6. Consistency provides a sense of comfort at any age because it evokes feelings of safety and security. Try to set consistent routines.
  7. Try to expose your child to varied social settings beyond the school setting. Introduce them to social opportunities in the parish and Diocese.
  8. Communicate with your child’s teacher.
  9. A dedicated space and time for homework is ideal. Know what your child is learning and working on.
  10. If a child struggles with academics help him or her develop a skill to feel good about such as carpentry, mechanics, knitting, music.
  11. “Stress that learning is an individual process. If your children feel they are ‘not good’ at a subject, the word ‘yet’ is your best friend. Explain that if we aren’t challenged by things, we aren’t learning. Being ‘good’ at something is not rigidly set according to who we are, but rather something that develops over time through challenge, perseverance and eventual success”(Back to school tips, The Catholic Spirit, August 2014).
  12. Tweens and teens are bombarded with messages that make them feel they don’t measure up. Tell them what you admire about them, talk about their specific passions.  And always remind your children that they are made in God’s image; they “measured up” from their first day of life; their value is in who they are, not in how they perform.
  13. We all must learn to navigate disappointments and frustrations. Don’t jump in too soon to save your students from struggles. Instead, let them learn the satisfaction of solving problems on their own.
  14. Prayer is a huge resource for children. Teach them to talk to God.
  15. Provide clear expectations. Communicate your personal expectations for acceptable and unacceptable performance, both socially and academically.

—Sharon Trani, a nurse practitioner, is a marriage and family therapist with Vermont Catholic Charities Inc.

—Originally published in the Fall 2023 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.