As the end-of-the-year obligations and festivities ramp up, the anticipation of summer freedom takes over. It’s easy to just put your head down and push through to the finish, then either collapse or celebrate.

Before doing that, though, I suggest that you ask your child to reflect on the year, what they’ve learned and what they can do differently next year. Chances are some of your child’s most important learning this year was not academic content. I don’t mean to diminish the value of math or writing skills, but many of the things that will matter over time are probably more subtle.

Along these lines, I’ve been trying to be more intentional about having my students reflect on their work. After every concert, for example, we have a discussion (I tell them I can assign them an essay or we can have a good, focused class discussion — and it works every time). We talk about what we did well and where we need to improve. I’ve started asking my voice students how they think they did after a particular warm-up or exercise. The more I help them reflect, the more I realize how important it is. I don’t know what jobs these students might one day have, but learning how to honestly assess their work and planning to improve will help them in any field.

So before the backpack goes into hibernation and the flip-flops come out, here are a few questions that will help your child reflect on the school year. If your child is reluctant to do this (as I know mine will be), I’ve found it useful to say, “I need to talk with you in the next week. You can pick the time, and we can go get [insert favorite snack or food or activity].” If they go past that time, then they lose their phone until they come talk with me.

  1. What is something you did well this year? What are you most proud of yourself for?
  2. What brought you joy?
  3. What was your biggest struggle?
  4. Do you think there are things you could do next year to make this better?
  5. What have you learned about yourself?
  6. How do you think you do at reaching out to other people?
  7. If your peers were honest, would they describe you as a person who is nice to everyone?
  8. What is your best quality as a friend?
  9. How could you improve the way you interact with others?
  10. Do you think you were respectful to your teachers?
  11. Do you think your teachers thought you were respectful?
  12. How can you improve the way you interact with your teachers?
  13. When you think about the things you want to do and become, did your choices this year help you get closer to those goals?
  14. What could you do next year to make more progress toward these goals?
  15. If you were only graded on your attitude, what would that grade be?

Extra credit: Have them write a note to their teacher. It’s hard to overstate how much teachers enjoy thoughtful notes of appreciation. Teachers teach because they want to make a difference. If they feel they’re succeeding at touching lives, that’s an enormous payday.

It’s a great time for parents to reflect, as well. I know I will be doing this. Remember that parents fall short not because we are defective but because of the magnitude of what we’re trying to do. Consider sharing some of your reflections with your child, or ask your child to evaluate you in some areas. That is always humbling but enlightening. I’ve been struck with what good feedback my students and children give me.

Here are a few starter questions.

  1. What did I do for my child this year that she could do for herself?
  2. Are there ways I can help my child learn to solve his own problems? Was there a time I intervened where I could have coached instead?
  3. Were there times I didn’t intervene but should have?
  4. My child will be leaving home in several years. Am I using these years to help build resilience, confidence and autonomy? What can I do to make this more a part of my parenting?
  5. Did I encourage my child to enjoy an activity without putting the emphasis on winning, getting a leading role or earning a trophy?
  6. Did I try to make my child’s teacher an ally?
  7. Did I find ways to praise my child’s efforts in something, or did I focus mostly on results?
  8. Have I talked with my child directly about important age-appropriate topics instead of assuming that he or she somehow understands my values (social media, language, bullying, sexual activity, consent, etc.)?
  9. Have I helped my child set limits on social media, gaming, etc.? Have I done this for the summer? It’s wise to discuss this in advance so the child knows.
  10. Have I given my child some reading goals this summer?
  11. What are five things I did well this year? Times I tried, even if it didn’t work out quite the way I envisioned. Give yourself credit for that.

Extra credit: Write or email your child’s teacher. This means the world. If you have questions about a gift, here is an article I wrote specifically about that issue. The gist is this: Gifts are lovely, but a note can absolutely change a life. I’m not exaggerating.

Braden Bell is a teacher, writer and director from Nashville. The author of seven novels, he blogs and writes a newsletter with reflections about parenting adolescents. He’s on Twitter @bradenbellcom.

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More reading:

The summer conundrum: Fight brain drain, or give the kids a break?

‘How would you like to handle this?’: The question that helped me stop overparenting

This is why it’s so hard to help with your kid’s math homework