UW psychologist: How the “three A’s” can prepare your kid for school

Shilagh Mirgain recommends parents focus on what she calls the “three A’s”: attention, achievement, and acknowledgment.
Published: Aug. 26, 2022 at 8:00 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - As the first day of school approaches for many south-central Wisconsin students, a UW Health psychologist has some advice to help make the transition a smooth one.

Shilagh Mirgain recommends parents focus on what she calls the “three A’s”: attention, achievement, and acknowledgment.

“Attention” focuses on starting school-day routines early. “This is a good time to start to have kids get up earlier and going to bed earlier to create a good routine. Think about how much TV time you want them to have and time for studying,” said Mirgain.

She also recommends families work together to get back into learning mode. “Maybe you have them read a good book or learn some math problems or do a science experiment.”

“Achievement” focuses on planning ahead of big milestones. Mirgain suggested creating a family calendar and even talking through what challenges may arise.

“It’s so important to listen, listen, listen to our kids. When we’re listening to our kids, we can think about what challenges might occur. Problem solved with them, even do some role-playing so that they feel well prepared,” explained Mirgain.

“Acknowledgement” comes into play when school is underway, according to Mirgain. She said it is important for parents to make time to follow-up with their children when they return home from school.

Dr. Shilagh Mirgain
Dr. Shilagh Mirgain(University of Wisconsin)

“Checking in with your child when they come home after school about one thing that went well that they feel proud of, one act of kindness that they did, and one thing they’re good that they’re grateful for that happened during the school day,” suggested Mirgain.

Another step she recommended for all caregivers is to normalize feelings of nerves and anxiety both leading up to and during the start of school, and to give them some techniques to deal with moments of high stress.

“Can they learn some deep belly breathing that they can use to calm themselves? Can they develop an affirmation or mantra like ‘I can do this’ or ‘I can face tough things’ or ‘just keep working hard and I can get through this,’” said Mirgain.

Mirgain said if a child’s anxiety doesn’t get better with time, to consider getting them professional help from a counselor or psychologist.