By Rachael Abrams, LCSW-C
(Repost, August 2014)
I’m enjoying the laid back hazy days of summer as much as I possibly can, savoring every minute of sunshine that comes my way. But I know what is lurking out there in the humid shadows. The back to school circulars have already showed up at my doorstep and the emails touting back to school deals arrive daily. Before I blink, I’ll be coordinating school calendars and preparing to get the kids ready for the craziness that September brings.
I am not ashamed to admit that I find it fun to shop for school supplies for my boys. However, the excitement of those sharpened pencils and crisp notebooks gets me thinking. In this age where parenting advice and doctrine are being thrown at us from every angle, what can parents do to emotionally and psychologically prepare our children for a successful year in school? We all want what is best for our children but sometimes it is hard to know exactly what that means. It is important to remember that as parents, we innately have the ability to help our kids succeed. Consider adding the following 5 E’s to your back-to-school list…they won’t cost you a penny!
Throughout childhood, and sometimes into adulthood, parents struggle between nurturing age appropriate independence and letting go. Sometimes you know where to stand along this continuum and other times, it is confusing. While away from home, children need to manage a variety of things on their own, both inside the classroom and outside of it. Use the weeks leading up to school to think about new responsibilities your child can take on as a contributing member of your household and as a growing individual. Have a discussion about these new responsibilities, the expectations and what kids can now handle as they grow. New skills and responsibilities, from tying shoes to making lunch to folding laundry, build confidence and help kids learn accountability.
The summer time is often a more relaxed and less structured environment for children. When the kids return to the classroom, rules about bedtime, homework and screen limits often resurface. Spend time talking with your children about the rules that apply during the school year and why these rules are in place. When possible, enlist their help in creating rules. This may help kids stick to the rules. Ensure that your child has a clutter-free place to do homework and keep supplies. Remember to ensure a balance between schoolwork and play time, even as children grow older.
Effort over Intelligence
We all want our children to succeed in life so we assume that starts with succeeding in school. The words “you’re so smart” roll off our tongues easily. However, research studies show that telling kids they are smart prevents them from acquiring the confidence needed to take on new challenges or a sense of perseverance upon failure. Rather than praise kids for intelligence, experts encourage praise for effort. Instead of “You got an A!” try, “I love how hard you studied for that test.” As a result of acknowledgement of effort, children are likely to take on demanding work, try new ways to solve a problem and persist when the going gets tough.
Ensure that Learning is Meaningful
It seems as though the workload for our children is increasing, starting from a young age. As parents, it can sometimes be exhausting to help our kids tackle their work, especially after a long day ourselves. As a result, it can be easy to fall into the reward trap – offering an incentive for completion of work. Kids have an innate desire to learn and soak up information. When we make learning reward based, that motivation decreases. Children sometimes need help recognizing the practical and real world implications of school work. Help them to understand how multiplication tables can help them convert ingredients for a recipe or point out when a vocabulary word shows up on a sign. Spend some time determining how your child learns best and, whenever possible, give your child those opportunities to absorb new information.
Explore the Possibilities
The start of the school year is a great kick off point for trying new things, taking on new roles and discovering new opportunities. Spend time with your kids to explore their interest and talk about new activities they might like to experience. Remember to balance your desires for your child with his actual wishes. You may have always imagined that your child would play piano, but she wants guitar lessons instead. Work together to figure out what makes sense for your child and your family. Try to refrain from taking on too much at one time.
Before you send them off on the first day of school remind them of 3 simple rules – it’s okay to be yourself, it’s okay to be different and it’s okay to make mistakes. Conveniently, these rules come in handy for adults too. Have a great school year!
Rachael Abrams, LCSW-C, CT, JCS Clinician
Because children don’t come with an instruction manual, JCS offers a variety of programs, services, education and support for parents and families with children of all ages. Click here or call 410-466-9200 to learn more.
As you are thinking heading back to school, please consider supporting our Community School Supply Drive. Click here for details.