Encouraging school attendance is one of the most important ways you can help prepare your child for academic success.
Research from Johns Hopkins University found that students who exhibit regular school attendance early on often see improved grades, learning skills, and overall behavior. Moreover, parent involvement has a positive and direct impact on school attendance.
Addressing Common Issues that Contribute to Absenteeism
Make Sleep Schedules Routine
Children, ages six to 13 need 9 to 11 hours of sleep every night. Teens need eight to 10 hours.
Inadequate sleep can lead to:
- Mood swings
- Behavioral problems
- Exacerbated symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or misdiagnoses of ADHD
- Problems with learning
Help your child achieve the sleep hours they need by:
- Minimizing activities that involve bright lights, excitement or stress in the hour before bedtime:
- Playing video games
- Using cell phones
- Watching television (watching television near bedtime has been associated with bedtime resistance, difficulty falling asleep, anxiety around sleep, and sleeping fewer hours.)
- Restrict cell phones and other electronic devices from your child’s bedroom during sleeping hours. For example, have a charging station in your room where all electronic devices charge at night. (This is important for sleep as well as for reducing cyberbullying and other concerns that can come with unsupervised technology use.)
- Keeping a regular and consistent sleep schedule and bedtime routine, even on weekends.
- Making your child’s bedroom conductive to sleep. Keep it dark, cool and quiet.
- Making sure your child avoids caffeine throughout the day and especially after midday.
- Making sure your child avoids large meals before bedtime.
Help Combat Anxiety
Most people experience anxiety or stress at one time or another. However, high levels of anxiety or stress can have negative effects, including:
- Physical illness
- Struggles in school
Note: If your child has significant and ongoing struggles with anxious thoughts and feelings please consider discussing this situation with your doctor, the school counselor or another health professional to determine if additional supports are warranted.
Tips to help your child manage anxiety or combat a stressful situation:
1. Work with your child to identify and write down times and places that trigger anxious feelings. Also, identify physiological changes that result from anxiety. Have the child reflect on times when they felt anxious, and identify if any of the following occurred:
- Feeling shaky
- Increased heartbeat
- Tension in certain parts of the body
If your child is unable to identify anxiety triggers or symptoms, it may be helpful for them to write in a journal whenever anxious feelings occur. Work together to look for a pattern across time.
2. Teach and practice relaxation techniques with your child. Model and talk aloud as you initially demonstrate a technique. Then have your child practice with you. As your child demonstrates the ability to perform the technique with ease, encourage them to think about an anxiety-producing situation while practicing the technique. Find times each evening to practice one or more of the following relaxation techniques:
- Deep Breathing. Have your child sit with a straight back or lie down. Have them breathe normally and notice how a normal breath feels. Demonstrate and then have your child practice breathing deeply, inhaling through the nose. Their abdomen should expand as they breathe deeply and fill their lungs. Their chest and should move only minimally. To exhale, your child should breathe slowly out through the mouth, using and audible exhaling sound. Practice the technique while counting: 4 seconds to inhale, 7 seconds holding the breath, 8 seconds exhaling. Do at least 10 full-breath sequences during practice each day and encourage additional sequences whenever your child is feeling anxious.
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Have your child tense their toes (tightening the muscles as much as they can), hold for at least five seconds, and then release. Have them tense their calf muscles, tightening the muscles as much as they can, and then release. Have them work progressively through each major muscle group (i.e., thighs, buttocks, abdomen, arms and hands, neck and shoulder, jaw and lips, eyes). Direct your child to feel the difference between tension and relaxation. Discuss which muscles they might tense and relax when they feel anxious in the presence of others. The student could tense their toes, leg muscles, or hands without others knowing they are using the technique.
- Visualization. Have your child identify a place or situation they find calming and ask them to describe as much as they can about the situation-sights, sounds, smells, physical sensations (e.g., heat, texture of the ground). Have your child sit and close their eyes. Initially practice by describing the place as they visualize being in that place. Over time, switch to having your child visualize without any auditory cues.
3. Work with your child to maintain other healthy lifestyle choices that can help them help feel their best:
- Drink plenty of water and limit drinks with caffeine.
- Get recommended amounts of exercise.
- Get adequate sleep for the age group. Children ages 6 through 13 need about 9 to 11 hours of sleep a night, and teenagers ages 14 through 17, need 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night.
- Do healthy things that your child enjoys and finds relaxing. Consider things like yoga, listening to music, volunteering, or talking to friends or family who have a positive and optimistic outlook and lifestyle.
- Get help for depression or anxiety as needed. Talk to school counselors or consult with a physician or therapist.
4. Seek out resources that may help your child, including the following:
Take the Stress Out of Your Morning
Does this sound familiar?
An hour before the bus will arrive, your child’s alarm goes off, and they hit the snooze button. The alarm goes off again. Snooze. You come in and tell your child to get out of bed. Ten minutes later, they are still not up. You throw the covers off the bed and tell them to hop in the shower. After the shower, they take 10 minutes to figure out what to wear. Just 15 minutes remain to eat breakfast and pack their bag for the day. Your child turns on the TV and slowly eats breakfast. Three minutes before the bus arrives, your child is running around and throwing things in their bag. As they bolt out the door, you realize that a textbook has been left behind. You're now running out the door after your child.
If something similar plays out in your household, consider ways to establish consistent morning and evening routines.
Have your child start getting ready for bed at least 30 minutes before their specified bedtime so that everything is ready for the next day. Use the following list before bed each night so that you and your child won’t need to scramble in the morning. After the routine is established, you may find getting everything organized for the morning will also allow your student to sleep in a little later.
Before Bedtime Tasks
3. Set out clothes.
4. Set alarm.
5. Brush teeth.
Teach your child that the snooze button is not helpful, and consider taping over it or buying an alarm clock without a snooze function. Use a morning list to set a routine and ensure that your child reaches school with everything they need.
In the Morning Tasks
1. Get up with alarm. (no snooze!)
2. Shower (10 minutes max). and get dressed.
3. Brush teeth.
4. Put lunch in bag.
5. Take bag and wait for bus.
You may also wish to provide a reinforcing item or activity for your child when they use the list and get to school or the bus on time. For example, “After you use your bedtime and morning list and get to school on time for 10 days, I will take you and a friend to a basketball game.” If a particular part of the routine is difficult for your child, consider reinforcing that part. For example, if your child habitually hits snooze and you have to nag to get your child up, reinforce when your child does not use the snooze button. For example, “After five days of getting up without snooze or nagging, you get 30 minutes of extra TV time that night.”