With a new school year just around the corner, it’s time for our annual “Back-to-School Dinners” where we plan an evening out with each kid to get him locked and loaded for the upcoming school year. It’s like the coach having a one-on-one (or in our case, a two-on-one) with each player before the start of the season.

Our guys always look forward to their back-to-school dinners. They love the opportunity to hang out with us alone and have our undivided attention, and we really enjoy hearing what each one has to say. They’re always at their most mature and interesting when they’re by themselves, and one of my favorite things is taking the time to appreciate each kid for his own personality and style. Because they’ve all got different strengths and weaknesses, concerns and issues, each guy comes up with a different plan—one that’s been developed by and expressly for him alone. Once the gang has the new school year in their crosshairs and we know what we can do to be most helpful and supportive, everyone’s ready to hit the ground running.

We do our back-to-school pep talks over dinner, but you could do it anytime—over breakfast or lunch or ice cream. It’s helpful to do it over some kind of meal or snack, though, so they’re kind of captive until they’re done eating, and they’re not too distracted. With older kids, make sure you find a mutually agreeable time in advance so he or she knows the specific purpose of your conversation, don’t just spring it on em out of the blue. Also, be sure to pick a time and place where you’re able to have an uninterrupted discussion. And finally, make the effort to really listen to what your child has to say (hint: sometimes that means reading between the lines!).

While our dinners don’t have a formal agenda, here are the 15 things we generally touch upon in the course of the evening:

  1. What are you most excited about in the upcoming school year?
  2. What are you least looking forward to?
  3. What do you see as your biggest challenge?
  4. Are there any nonacademic issues that concern you about the upcoming year?
  5. What are your academic goals for the year?
  6. What are your personal goals for the year?
  7. How can we help to support you in achieving your goals?
  8. Is there one general theme you need/want to focus on?
  9. What will you do differently from last year?
  10. Is there anything in particular that will help motivate or focus you?
  11. Do you want to make any changes to your study environment that may improve or enhance your study habits?
  12. What are your biggest distractions and how can we help you manage them?
  13. How are you planning to prioritize your schoolwork and activities and how can we be of help?
  14. Is there anything we can do to help you get/stay organized?
  15. What’s the best way for us to keep a pulse on your schoolwork?

Obviously, with little ones you’ll want to choose just a few simple questions to focus on. As your kids get to middle and high school (and beyond) you may want to have more lengthy, detailed conversations to kick off the new school year.

What have I forgotten? What else do/would you ask?

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