08/15/2013 09:42 am ET Updated Oct 15, 2013

15 Back-to-School Questions to Ask Your Kids

Andrea Reiser

It's August, and around here that means that we've started our series of "Back-to-School Dinners." To get the kids ready to return to school, we plan an evening out with each one where we get the chance to talk to him alone, he gets to hang out with us and have our undivided attention, and we 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.

We do our back-to-school pep talks over dinner, but you could do it over breakfast or lunch or ice cream -- or just as a special "meeting" on the back porch between you and your child. There are three simple ground rules for a successful pep talk: 1) set up a time in advance so your child knows the specific purpose; don't just lay it on her out of the blue; 2) pick a time and place where you're able to have an uninterrupted discussion -- chatting about the upcoming school year while you're kiteboarding or running errands together isn't ideal; and 3) really listen to what your child has to say (and sometimes that means reading between the lines).

Our kids always look forward to their back-to-school dinners, and we love having the opportunity to engage with each guy individually and meaningfully. They're always at their most mature and interesting when they're alone, and as a mom of four, it's a joy to be able to appreciate each kid for his own personality and style.

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 non-academic 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?

Because they've all got different strengths and weaknesses, concerns and issues, each guy comes out 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. And then all that's left to do is get all those smelly Sasquatch feet fitted for new back-to-school sneakers!