(By the way, Mike has a new job as head of the Redwood Day School, an independent school in Oakland, Calif.)
How involved should parents be in the back-to-school ritual?
The younger the child, the more you should be involved, and even for high school students, it's important that you stay involved. It makes a positive difference, even though the child may not readily share that with you.
In other words, if you're not already talking about the upcoming school year, start today. The beauty of the academic year is that kids have the chance to start anew every September. How many of us would love that opportunity in our work lives? A clean slate every year!
How can I get my child to feel a sense of responsibility for completing homework and keeping track of assignments?
You can't make it happen, but you can improve the odds. Just remember: It's about their growing responsibility from the inside, which means, unfortunately, that you often don't see results right away. They develop the roots of responsibility long before the behaviors bloom.
Set clear expectations and hold them to these expectations. Be interested in their work, the assignments, and what's difficult and easy about them. Your interest helps.
When they complete homework make sure you acknowledge it, but not just with an "I'm proud of you." Your feedback has to point to the internal growth of responsibility, so "How do you feel?" or "You must feel good about that" are better comments.
What are some ways to motivate my child to get organized and, more importantly, make it a habit?
Create a ritual at home:
Kids, just like adults, like the feeling of being organized. Before the school year begins, ask the teachers what they think are essential organizational skills. This prepares you and enables you to get a head start.
How can I help my child balance the demands of school and extracurricular activities this school year?
It's important to teach our kids how to set priorities. They can't do everything; at least, not all at once. This is crucial as they move up the grades: Elementary school kids can do many things, but as they get older and each activity requires more time and attention, they have to learn to prioritize. So start early: "We can go to the park and play, or we can go for a swim, but we can't do both. You choose." That's the key: Get them used to making decisions.
What are some signs my child is on overload?
To sum up: What are the best basic things I can do (beginning today) to get my child off to a good start in the new school year?
Conversation and Time.
Remember the 5 P's: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.
Talk about routine shifts from summer to school year: Bedtime, curfew and the like, but get beyond this, too.
Finally, stay involved, but don't try to run the show, either. Just stay involved.