Don’t Dread the School Year: Take the Coach Approach!


(Editor’s Note: This orginally ran in 2011. We feel it’s valuable information and are re-posting.)

Are you sick and tired of the school year becoming one long nag fest about homework, organization, studying, etc.? Are you dreading September? It doesn’t have to be this way. This year, become your child’s “school coach” and stop taking all the responsibility for the work that they should be doing themselves.

The successful school coach uses this checklist:

  • Gets “buy-in” listening to her team and working together to create a plan where everyone “wins”
  • Makes expectations clear and in writing
  • Provides encouragement and assistance not interference
  • Maintains faith and trust in her team’s ability to get the job done correctly and on time
  • Models the behavior she expect from others
  • Creates a system for earning privileges and sticks to it
  • Rewards effort and achievement with fairness and sincerity

Here are some practical steps to get started coaching your team:

  1. Call a family meeting: Keep it pleasant and conversational, but focused. Ask the kids their goals for the upcoming year: grades, extra-curricular activities, social time, etc. How did they view last year and what would they like to change? Listen and ask questions. Give your input without lecturing. Make sure you leave the meeting with some basic shared goals and responsibilities. Create a document that includes daily responsibilities, expectations, privileges and how to earn them, etc. Keep it simple, realistic, and fair. Have all parties sign it and post it where everyone can see it every day.
  2. Jump start the organization issue: Have them choose a color for each subject and hit the office supplies store. Make sure you use the same coding for their “at home work station”. For each subject, a folder should stay at home for graded tests and other assignments. Older students may also want to have an at-home folder for materials they will need to study from for midterms and finals. Shop together to ensure “buy-in” and let them buy some fun stuff to decorate their work station. This is a good opportunity to start the year on a positive note and help them “own” their work spaces.
  3. Do the daily bag dump: As soon as your child gets home from school, he should empty his backpack completely. Loose papers should be put in their proper places or discarded. (Old banana peels and half eaten apples should be tossed, too.) Coach your child through the process, but don’t do it for them. By the time your child is ready to start homework, he will feel organized and less overwhelmed. It’s also a good time to glance together at the Agenda Book and help him decide how to manage his time by reviewing what is due tomorrow, upcoming tests, long term projects, etc.
  4. Provide incentives: As kids get older, having them earn a privilege is an all around better technique than taking things away. For instance, if your child wants to have a sleepover on Friday night, but has trouble doing homework without putting up a big fight, you’ve got a coaching opportunity. Set the terms and put the choice in her hands. Either she does her homework every night without argument or she doesn’t. The earlier your child learns the connection between hard work and success, the better. If you say “yes” first then take it away, you will be trapped in the no win dynamic of Mean Mom vs. the Desperate Deprived Daughter.
  5. Honoring the Contract: Some kids will agree to anything and then blithely disregard all agreements, contracts, and previous discussions. The consequences of this should be written into the contract, so it’s bigger than both of you. You are neither the good guy nor the bad guy: you are a school coach who adheres to Policy. Example: Your child races in the house after school, throws down her backpack and yanks open the refrigerator. You know she is hungry, but you also know that this snack will end up being eaten in front of the computer and take an hour. Close the refrigerator, calmly point to the backpack and say, “As soon as you empty your backpack, you are welcome to have a snack. Let’s go get it done, I know you’re hungry.” Then guide her to success by keeping things pleasant and unemotional. Cheerfully provide assistance and support. If she makes the right choice, in two or three minutes she’ll get her snack. Bigger picture: Your child will feel safer knowing you mean what you say and can enforce the rules without anger.

It’s not easy to break negative family habits and pretty much impossible unless you change yourself first. The coach approach allows you to model what you want to see in your children: team work, organization, responsibility, and, most importantly, spending more time together having fun.

Betsy Ressler Wald has been guiding families for the last 20 years as a social worker and positive parenting coach. Learn more about her at

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