As a mother who’s gone through the back-to-school routine with her own children, Jon Brooks-Fox knows what it means to motivate young students. And as a program manager at Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, she interacts with other parents who are facing similar challenges.

As another school year approaches, Brooks-Fox shared a list of tried-and-true tips based on other working parents’ advice as well as her own experiences.

“It’s definitely what I’ve learned, what I’ve seen work,” she said. “…It’s not a perfect recipe, but I’m hopeful that people will be able to pick one or two tidbits that will help them enter into the next school year with a little better footing for them and their child…”

Restart good habits: Kids who practice good habits do better in school…as well as later in life. Start now to set expectations for the new school year — draw up a “contract” with your child that lays out what hours he/she will set aside for study, sleep and personal time for TV or electronics.

Create a comfortable homework environment: Talk about where your child will do his/her homework. Children are different; some study best while sitting at a desk in total silence. Others may prefer a less traditional space where music plays in the background. Listen to your child to find out what works best. If necessary, make adjustments.

“As a parent, do your best to stay close to your child so you’ll be able to see what’s working and what’s not,” Brooks-Fox said.

Check your child’s health before school starts: It’s a fact that healthy children do better in school. Make an appointment with your family physician to have your child checked before the start of school. This should include an eye exam as well. Reminder: Public schools in North Carolina require that students be immunized against certain childhood illnesses, unless parents complete a form stating a religious exemption.

Mental health is key to overall health: It’s not something we often talk about this time of year, Brooks-Fox says, but some children struggle with emotional challenges. While some may relish the thought of heading to school, others may have a great deal of anxiety about meeting new people. Still others may be dealing with a bad experience from a previous school year. Brooks-Fox said parents should find a constructive way to talk about such issues. She said parents should keep the conversation positive and use open-ended questions.

“You’re helping your child cultivate those same skills, but you’re also setting up a stage in case there is an issue,” she said. “If there’s an issue, it needs to be discussed with you or perhaps engage a professional, but start those conversations before the child goes back to school.”

Plan for those after-school hours: For working parents, arranging for a student’s care once classes let out can prove daunting…and expensive.

“Most of us don’t have the kind of flexibility that lets us leave in time to meet the bus at home,” Brooks-Fox said. “…So this is the time right before school starts to go to your school and inquire about aftercare programs.”

For older students who may not need adult supervision, Brooks-Fox says it’s still important that parents set rules and expectations for those after-school hours. Parents should start, she said, by knowing who their children’s friend are and what influences might be in their homes. Finally, flip through the school calendar and take note of all school holidays. Mark those days on your calendar at work and, if necessary, start making plans for childcare or schedule personal days to stay at home.

Note important days in your child’s school year: Mark your calendar at work and remember to attend orientation sessions, parent-teacher meetings and awards ceremonies. Also, sign up to chaperone a class field trip. Brooks-Fox said having a presence in your child’s school is a good way to meet their friends in an informal setting. Equally important, she said, it demonstrates to teachers that you are invested in your child’s education.

“In those moments, really show up for your child,” Brooks-Fox said. “It goes a long way, and it makes them understand that they are a priority to you, even if it’s for a half hour or an hour. Just be present.” And remember, she said, to leave the work calls and personal devices behind.

Go out on a high note: As summer draws to a close, find something fun to do with your kids before they return to school. It might be as simple as going to a museum or hiking. Find something your student will enjoy and remember fondly as an end-of-summer excursion.

“We have some fantastic mountains here in North Carolina, Brooks-Fox said. “We have fantastic beaches. Any of those kinds of day trips.”

Before you shop: For many parents, back to school means buying school supplies and new school clothing. Brooks-Fox says she has a slightly different ritual at her home. Before heading to the mall, her kids are sent into their closets and bedroom drawers to flush out what supplies and outfits they already have.

“We go and we find pencils that were not used from last year,” she says. “We find glue sticks, all those things that are on that list that the school provides…We create a bucket, and they put all those pieces in there, so we really have a better gauge of what we need to get as far as the school supplies.”

Aside from saving money, Brooks-Fox said the exercise helps her children identify clothing items that can be donated to a charity organization.

Establish a first-day ritual: Some parents take photos of their kids each year on the first day of school. Others prepare a special breakfast or even eat out. Whatever you decide, establishing a special, first-day ritual is a great way for parents to show their excitement and pass on their enthusiasm about education and learning, Brooks-Fox said.

Keep the fun going year-round: Every day your child leaves home for school, find a special way to say goodbye. Some Blue Cross NC parents say they’ve developed special handshakes or listen to their kid’s favorite music on their way to school.  

“My kids like to sing some of their favorite songs on the car ride to school,” Brooks-Fox said. “…Whatever it takes to help them be enthusiastic and start their day in a good way. Let it be the last gesture before you guys part so that they always know that they feel love, they feel supported, and they also start with a little bit of enthusiasm.”