We begin the school year with blank notebooks, pages fresh and clean. Backpacks are free of crumbs and leaked box drinks. Children wake up early in anticipation. We try to get to school a bit before the morning bell and start the year off on the right track.
But slowly the familiar patterns start to appear. The kids are going to sleep way past bedtime, waking up with just a few moments to spare. A child leaves his notebook in school and must scramble to find a friend whose fax machine is working. Nights spent struggling over homework for hours, studying for tests left for the last minute, assignments forgotten, cliques and social politics – it feels as if we are going backwards instead of forward.
How can we make this year different from all the others? How can we take our hopes and wishes for positive change and turn them into a reality?
Transition between summer and school can be difficult for children – and for parents. Any change in life can bring nervousness, worry, and irritability. Children often have a hard time adjusting to new situations, unfamiliar teachers, and the more rigid schedule needed during the school year. When feeling overwhelmed, our kids may express their emotions through becoming argumentative, fighting more often with siblings, or withdrawing into themselves. And parents can find it difficult to keep calm and not lose themselves in anger when things don't go right.
Instead of just accepting that this is the way our home is meant to be, let us think about reachable goals that we can work on. When we create a plan, we can do away with unnecessary failures and strive to help our children feel and be more successful.
My 5 Parenting Goals
1. Keep My Eyes Open
Sometimes we notice that something does not feel right with a child but we get distracted. We are all very busy, it’s true. We have great pressures and responsibilities pulling us in too many directions. The child who seems a little ‘off’, not himself, snappy or more quiet than usual is trying to tell us something. But it is easy to tuck this information away in a back pocket and only realize that something is wrong when a crisis occurs. We then think back and recognize that the signs were there, we were just too preoccupied to pay attention.
Don’t allow problems with your child to fester and grow. Open your eyes and observe if a child seems sad, withdrawn, distant, more moody than usual, or angry. Recognize if there seems to be greater confrontation between this child and siblings, if friends stop calling or coming over, or if the child can’t seem to find his place in school. Because before you know it, half the year can go by and what could have been a small problem has now become a ‘situation’ that requires major time and investment and causes terrible aggravation.
2. Develop a Working Relationship with Teachers
Reach out to your child’s teachers before your child reaches ‘zero hour.’ Many parents feel as if teachers are their opponents and don't realize that we are are all here to try and help our children grow in the best way possible. If you think that there may be an issue, it is a good idea to set up a meeting with the teacher and ask how you can work in harmony. Too many parents call teachers to demand and accuse instead of saying that we would like to solve this problem together. Before going to the principal with a complaint, see if you can first diffuse the situation.
If there are any special concerns going on in your home, do not wait for the teacher to find out through your child’s acting up in class or failure to keep up with schoolwork and poor grades.
When a grandparent falls ill, if there is a health issue, financial stress, marital upheaval, problems with siblings, or any other factor that may affect your child’s academic or social success, it would be wise to enlist your child’s teacher as your confidential ally and gain her/his understanding. You can believe that most teachers would go the extra mile and extend to your child an open heart.
3. Work on Social Skills
Help your child be successful this year by preparing him not just academically, but also socially. School is not simply about getting straight A’s, it is also about learning how to get on with others and knowing how to develop friendships. A child who is happy in school is a child who can focus on studying and doing well. He wants to be there and be a part of things. One who believes that school is all about academics and no social life unfortunately makes a big mistake.
How can we better teach our children social skills?
- Set rules and follow through with consequences when needed.
- Set routines for meals and bedtimes that establish stability.
- Develop your child’s ability to put himself in the shoes of others and grow more sensitive.
- Help your child learn how to express frustration, disappointment and anger without hurting others or retreating into sullenness.
- Establish basic rules of conduct: no hitting, kicking, biting, spitting, (no hands allowed), and no hurting others through our words.
4. Help Children Become Independent
When children feel as if they are gaining skills and becoming self-sufficient, they grow more confident in their abilities. You will watch their self-esteem take off. Each year, every child should be able to point with pride to a newfound skill or added responsibility that comes with age.
We can help our children grow independent and flourish by:
- Teaching our children to pick out their clothing, dress themselves as they grow older, tie their own shoes, pack school snacks, make lunches the night before, set their own alarm clocks instead of waking them up, and having children put away their books and organizing themselves.
- Allow a young child to complete puzzles and feed himself on his own and as he grows, to do his homework and projects by himself. It is much healthier to tell a child that you will check his work when he is done instead of sitting beside him and correcting the answers as he goes along. Book reports and science projects should not be parent’s homework.
- Have your child help around the house and gain responsibilities instead of waiting to be served. Some skills children can help with are putting away laundry, setting and clearing the table, helping to serve guests, baking, cooking and keeping their room in order.
5. Communicate with Each Child
Our children should never be afraid to speak with us. No matter how tough the topic, even if they messed up badly, they should not fear that we will hate them or want to close the door on them. Our love must be unconditional. True, there may be consequences or emotions of disappointment, but they must know that we are here for them. After all, we are their parents and if they cannot believe in our love for them, whose love can they believe in?
Work on communicating with your child this year. I am not just speaking about when you must call him in with a problem like failing grades or after you received a call from his teacher. I am talking about daily interactions where you share a smile, a good word, a laugh, a story, or a meal together. The main thing is that you put the time and energy in so that he knows that he matters in your life.
- Talk to your child every day-even if it’s just for a few minutes.
- Put down your iPhone , turn off your laptop when your child (or you) return home, at mealtimes and story times, and when you pick your child up from school. Look at him and make eye contact while having a conversation.
- Speak to your child in the tone and with the words that you wish he would use with others.
- Express your love every day, no matter how tough the day.
I know that some days will bring unforeseen difficulties and that some children seem more challenging than others. But at least we will know in our hearts that we have tried our best to help our children navigate the road of life successfully.