How to Parent a School Age Child
School has begun (at last!) Every parent wants to help her child get off to a good start. Every parent wants her child to have a great school experience. Every parent wants to be the best parent of a student that she can be with her child’s successful year in mind.
I am going to cut right to the chase. Here’s what you, the parent, can do in order to help your child have a good school year, get the most of his school experience this year, and cultivate in him the traits that will help him grow to become the adult you hope he will be one day.
- Wait SIX weeks before you make a judgment about the new class, new teacher, and new year. It takes six weeks for things to settle down and for a child to get comfortable in his new setting.
- Keep your child’s teachers in the loop. Share with them any significant information that affects your child—travel, surgery, moving houses, ailing family members. Your child’s teachers want to support him and need to know what is going on in his life.
- Don’t use email to share anything that is “hard” with your child’s teacher. Use email to arrange a time to speak in person or send a quick, easy message. Respect your teacher’s time away from school. She needs her time to be the best teacher she can be.
- Respect the chain of command, the pecking order of your child’s school when there is an issue. Start with the classroom teacher, then the lead teacher, then the level chair, and finally the principal. The system is in place for a reason, and it usually works.
- As I used to tell the parents in the school I directed, “I will only believe half of what your child tells me about you, and you should believe only half of what they tell you about us.”
- Follow the school rules. (Obey the signs, respect the boundaries, follow the directions you have been given.) They apply to everyone…even the biggest donors! You are a model for your child in doing so.
- Be discreet. Your child is always listening, especially when you think he is not. Save your judgments and criticisms about his school, his teacher, the program for your truly private time.
- Do not compare your child to other children. Every child has his own style and timetable for growing and learning. And in the end, each child will learn it all. Remember, faster is not always better or desirable, and more is not necessarily what a child needs.
- Your child’s homework is your child’s. The teacher doesn’t need to know what you can do. Ask your teacher how involved she wants you to be. My suggestion: After you have helped your child to create a homework spot, after you have discussed his plan for getting his homework done, back off. You need to butt out of his homework. And if he is not meeting his teacher’s expectations for homework, allow him to experience the consequences of those choices.
- Help set up your child to be successful. If he is forgetful, hang a list by the back door of things he needs to remember each day. If he needs to recharge after his day, allow him time to snack, rest, and regroup.
- Allow your child to make mistakes, even fail. Allow him to forget his homework, to forget his lunch, to forget his trip slip, to forget to bring his soccer shoes, do a lousy job on his homework. Let him experience what happens when you don’t take responsibility for these. Next time he will.
- Be careful not to race to fix things that have gone awry. By doing so you give your child the message that you don’t think he is capable of fixing things himself or making a course correction.
- Insist that your child works towards solving his own problems. Ask, “How are you going to handle this?” Then let him do what he says and not what you think he should do. Self-esteem grows out of successful experiences that the child has authored. Let him feel capable.
- Stifle your judgments. Of course you know better; your child needs to learn to do better. Use a speaking voice that is caring and interested but not concerned. No judgments, please.
- Don’t take the bait when your child complains. Parents are quick to want to jump in and try to solve an issue. Often issues shrink with time and distance. Give it a day or two and then ask what your child wants to do about the issue, if anything.
- Support your child in helping him to discover what he loves. Hyper specialization at a young age may be important in a particular sport or in music, but it cuts into the child’s willingness to explore.
- It is okay for your child not to do everything he wants. Learning to make a choices is an excellent lesson.
- Downtime really is important. It is in downtime that learning happens, that children process their experiences, their learning, their days. The child who has no downtime doesn’t learn to entertain himself.
- Emphasize the importance of sleep. The link between health/achievement and sleep is well documented. Insist on a bedtime. Collect tech devices at a specific time. Beds should be used for sleep, not for homework, not for cell phones. This is true for all children.
- Eat dinner as a family. It needn’t be a long event; it needed even be home-cooked. But circling the wagons reminds the child of his place in a family. His family is his safety net, always. And for families with more than one child, there is much ambient learning in hearing your siblings’ stories.
- Give your child the gift of time alone with you on a regular basis. Your undivided attention is invaluable. You don’t have to go out; you don’t have to be doing anything special. That you want to be with your child alone sends a powerful message about his significance in your life.