Being a parent is tough, especially when it comes to helping your child in school! We all want our children to be successful, whether that be on the soccer field, on the stage, or in the classroom, but often it can be challenging to figure out how exactly we can support our children in these endeavors. Even though our heart is always in the right place, sometimes these efforts can backfire on us, leading to stress, tears, and anxiety at home from the child. How many of you can relate to this? I know I can!
Children feeling safe and supported at home is crucial in being able to take risks at school, and let’s face it, taking risks is essential in all of our pursuits. It is scary enough to put yourself out there academically or socially, therefore when your child knows you have their back at home, it makes it that much easier. It is possible to hold your child accountable while being supportive of them on their academic journey. Here are some helpful hints for making that happen:
1. Find out the teachers' expectations of parents. This is especially important when it comes to homework, studying, and doing projects. Every teacher is different and expects different things. For instance, some may expect a totally hands-off approach when it comes to homework, while others may expect parents to look over their child’s homework with them. Once you know what these expectations are, communicate them with your child and have an open dialogue about what that will look like at home. It is even better if the teacher can deliver the same message to your child, or whole class. This will help avoid surprises.
2. Help your children solve their own problems rather than solving the problems for them. It is inevitable that students will forget to bring home a book that they need or wait until the last minute to start that project that was assigned 3 weeks ago. Instead of driving them back to school at 5:30pm, maybe ask them how they think they can get the material they need? Maybe call a friend or look online to see if there is a digital version. It is important that as a parent you remain neutral and supportive during these conversations. If you are heated or upset, you will only make solving the problem more difficult for your child. Equally as important is that you help your child solve their problem rather than doing it for them. You want to help teach them problem solving skills that they can employ independently, rather than teaching them that you will be there to swoop in and save the day.
3. Natural consequences are a good thing! This is how students learn. Remember that project they waited to start until the night before? Instead of staying up until after midnight finishing the project for them (well after you put your child to bed), let them do as much as they can, and let them turn it in on time as is the day it is due. A few things may happen as a result of this: they will see how their project compares to other students who spent a great deal of time on it, their grade will reflect their work ethic, and if nothing else, they will feel what it was like to cram it all into one night. Later this can be used as a great teachable moment. Again, remaining neutral and supportive instead of punitive and angry is essential in having these types of conversations.
4. Focus on process not outcome. Many times, children will work really hard at something and not get the results they were hoping for. They may have studied super hard for a test that they got a low grade on, or spent hours on their homework each night, only to not be able to participate in discussions the next day. While this can be heart wrenching to watch as a parent, please be assured that putting forth this effort now will pay off immeasurably in the future! When I taught 5th grade, I always told my students and their parents that I did not expect them to remember every single thing that we learned that year. Instead, I expected them to learn how to work hard, how to be a critical thinker, and how to be resourceful. These are the true lessons that will pay off in adulthood - everything else can be Googled. In the end, it does not matter what their report card looked like, what matters is whether or not they know how to think through a problem, come up with a solution, and implement it.
5. Be a sounding board. Being a student is hard work. It’s really hard work. As a parent, one of the most important things you can do is listen to your child. When they want to talk put away the phone, the computer, and tablet and turn the TV off. As they get older these moments may be fewer and farther between, so take advantage of any opportunity you get! Listen to listen, not to give advice; if they want advice they will ask for it. It’s also OK to say “it sounds like you’re going through a lot right now. I am here whenever you want to talk. If you want to talk through ways to move forward we can do that, but I really appreciate you having this conversation with me now.” When things get stressful, just being there is oftentimes all that is needed.
Parenting is hard and you are doing a GREAT job!
Dana Eisenman, BS, MA, LAPC is a therapist at Art It Out Therapy Center. In addition to offering individual, family, & group therapy, Dana offers Executive Function Coaching in combination with therapy. This is particularly helpful for individuals who struggle with organization.