K-12 back-to-school story ideas

By Maggie Barrett
June 24, 2005

Everyone can think back to elementary school and remember a bully. What should parents do if their child is the bully, rather than the victim? Drew Edwards, adjunct associate professor of psychology at Wake Forest University and author of the book "How to Handle a Hard-to-Handle Kid," shares techniques parents can use to help curb bullying behavior. Edwards, who has practiced clinical child psychology for more than 30 years, suggests parents avoid using physical punishment, increase adult supervision and examine the example they set for their children when expressing anger. Edwards also advises parents that it is never too early to intervene. Research shows that after age 10, bullying behavior is harder to change as aggressive behavior patterns have become more firmly entrenched.

With the growing problem of childhood obesity, getting children to eat healthy foods at school has become an issue often highlighted by the media. Gary Miller, Wake Forest University associate professor of health and exercise science, says parents can increase the chances their kids will eat healthier lunches at school by sending healthy packed lunches that appeal to their children and by talking to children about making healthy food choices. When packing a lunch for children, Miller advises parents to use the healthy foods their children like, offer them a choice of those foods and use creative presentation. Miller, who has a 5-year-old son, acknowledges that the temptation of cafeteria staples such as pizza can be powerful, which is why he says the most important thing parents can do to get their kids to eat healthier lunches at school is talk to them. "If you give kids some credit and talk to them about why some foods are good everyday foods and why others should be eaten once in a while, they get it."

Quoting Johnny Mercer, Wake Forest University counseling expert Samuel T. Gladding says parents should "accentuate the positive/eliminate the negative" with their children. Gladding, the author of "Family Therapy" and other widely used counseling textbooks, says the difference between encouragement and discouragement is the difference between success and failure. "All kids can feel good about themselves and increase their achievement if they feel empowered and encouraged," says Gladding, president of the American Counseling Association and chair of the counseling department at Wake Forest. Gladding, a father of three sons, advises parents to help their children focus on the positives by praising their talents (everyone has at least one), pointing out the hidden positives of less-than-ideal experiences and establishing positive rituals around tasks that can be unpleasant, such as homework.

School-age children (kindergarten through grade 12) should participate in 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, says a panel of 13 health experts whose recommendations are featured in the June issue of "The Journal of Pediatrics." Patricia Nixon, Wake Forest University associate professor of health and exercise science was one of the panelists. Nixon says the panel arrived at the recommendation of 60 minutes because kids are rarely physically active for a continuous period of time. "They have brief bursts of activity throughout the day," Nixon says. "The panel felt that 60 minutes was appropriate to ensure that the total amount of activity was sufficient." Nixon and her colleagues say that the recommended 60 minutes can be achieved in a cumulative manner in daily physical education classes, as well as recess, intramural sports and before- and after-school programs.

The start of the school year brings big decisions about what classes to take, and a Wake Forest University chemistry professor says parents and children should not take the easy way out when it comes to science and math classes. "High school kids don't have to know their exact career path," says Angela King, a senior lecturer in the chemistry department at Wake Forest. "Enrolling in challenging science and math classes arms them with skills – critical thinking, data analysis – that serve them well no matter what path they choose. Courses with lab or internship components help students experience what career practitioners in that field do each day." King, the mother of children in preschool and early elementary school, says parents should look for activities outside of school that engage young people in science and math exploration. Teachers and school administrators can provide information about good programs in the local community. Web sites run by science groups like Discovery, National Geographic and the Smithsonian can offer ideas for fun experiments that can be done at home, she says.

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