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The start of the school year is a good time to establish back-to-school routines. Maurine Harrison, professor of education at Sweet Briar College, has these tips for parents:

- Set definite limits on television, video and computer games. Help children choose selectively and carefully.- Set a regular time and place for homework. Be firm. If 7 to 8 p.m. is designated as a quiet time for study, stick to it. If this schedule is disrupted, get back on track as soon as possible. (This works best if parents also use this time for quiet activity!)

- Help your child get organized with a simple assignment book, calendar and notebook with dividers. Don't buy expensive, complicated organizing systems; these can be frustrating to use. Be sure to show children how to use these aids.

- Keep communication lines open with teachers. Work together so little problems don't mushroom into big ones. When parents and teachers work together, children know limits, and expectations will be carried out both at school and at home. Close communication with teachers also allows parents to hear and share their children's successes. Report cards provide a very small piece of the total picture.

- Communicate expectations clearly and consistently. Children need to know their parents value learning and expect them to make the best of their talents and abilities. Meeting challenges in order to make the best of one's unique potential is the foundation of healthy self-esteem.

- Focus on strengths. Find activities children can excel in and enjoy, and then support their continued success in these areas - Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, sports, music, whatever. If a child has a learning difficulty, parents should work with the child, teacher and school as much as possible. "The key is to help your child develop his or her own identity in terms of the things he or she does well."

- Balance work and play. Personal satisfaction and happiness operate like a bank account; whatever is energizing fills the account, whatever is draining depletes it. "Never underestimate the value of play for creating energy and renewal for less enjoyable, but necessary tasks."

- Encourage and support children through positive communication and action. Negative comments help parents vent their frustrations, but they don't help children grow and learn. Instead, they engender hurt, anger, "parent deafness" and resentment. "Parents, choose your words and actions carefully. They are more powerful than we ever fully realize."

- Anticipate common problems and look for workable solutions. "Family meetings" can be used to brainstorm solutions that will benefit everyone. If one solution fails, brainstorm together again. Keep trying until a workable solution is found. When children feel they are valued, contributing members of the family, they become an active part of the solution.