Elevated Parenting column: Make this school year better for your children
September 10, 2013
School has started for children, and parents are faced with another year of struggles and triumphs for both their children and themselves. It is the hope of most parents that their children succeed in school and in life, and experience as little suffering as possible.
Michael Thompson, Ph.D. and author of "The Pressured Child," has written a powerfully helpful book that addresses these challenges and offers great insights and suggestions to help parents.
Eight strategies for helping children cope with school
Here are eight strategies from this great work to implement now, throughout the year and for years to come.
1. Realize that "How was school today?" will seldom give you what you want. Even if children answer this question, they usually don't offer the information parents seek. Some children may be hesitant to talk about their academics for fear that their parents will continue to ask. Many children are happy that the school day has ended and don't want to be there any longer. If a parent decides to ask questions, they should consider asking questions that focus on children's interests, are about specific people and events in their lives or could be about what bothers them.
2. Put yourself back in school. Think about how it feels to sit in uncomfortable chairs all day, to stand in many lines, to eat in crowded noisy cafeterias, to worry about possibly getting picked last in P.E. and to frequently struggle with learning new concepts. Imagine if you had to attend seven meetings a day that you could find boring, in addition to navigating social situations and bringing your work home with you. Many adults forget what school was like for them and according to Thompson, "if you have lost touch with your school experience, you will be at a loss to fully support your own children with their school struggles." Most children at some point don't want to go to school and even schools that are the best fit for students provide daily challenges.
3. Realize that all children are always trying the best they can with the skills they have. Children are often labeled as unmotivated or lazy and instead should be seen as "overwhelmed, underprepared or immobilized" according to Thompson. When we see the child as trying and respect this effort even though it is unsuccessful, then we can try to problem-solve with him. This respect and empathy will allow him to try a new strategy, which might not happen if we just called him "lazy."
4. Keep in mind that all children don't have a school brain. In 1983, Howard Gardner, Ph.D., introduced the concept of multiple intelligences in "Frames of Mind." They are 1) linguistic ability, 2) logical-mathematical ability, 3) spatial intelligence, 4) musical intelligence, 5) bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, 6) interpersonal intelligence and 7) intrapersonal intelligence. Linguistic ability and logical-mathematical ability are the two types that are associated with school, but all children don't excel in these areas. Parents should try to appreciate children's talents, which may not be their own strength or what school values.
5. Don't push development. In normally developing children, parents need to trust the natural pattern of growth. Instead, many American parents want to control it or make it happen. Parents can be most helpful when they support their children's development and realize that they can't rush it. Parents often make comparisons to other children's paths, which can cause them to feel helpless, frustrated and angry, and this is certainly not productive. According to Jean Piaget, Ph.D., and Erik Erikson, Ph.D., there are eight types of development:
Development of attachment
Moral and spiritual development
Every child experiences growth in these eight areas at different rates, yet they all are happening concurrently. Realizing that so much is going on with children can help parents be more understanding for all of the demands they experience.
6. Understand that spending time with friends is probably what gets them to school. Since school is a difficult place for most children, what makes it bearable and sometimes even fun is that there are other children and friends there. This is where most of the child's social development takes place — a key life skill. While parents focus on their grades and their future, children usually live in the present and focus on getting through each day.
7. Don't push for more homework. Many parents want to see a significant amount of homework to make them feel that their child is getting a quality education. As a result, parents may often pressure teachers and schools to increase the amount their children receive. According to Thompson, "there is much that is wrong with homework assignments … much of what is assigned is uninspired drudgery." The school day is long enough for many children, especially the younger ages, and homework can make it feel like it never ends.
8. Get out of the way. Don't assume your child will experience school like you did. Try to objectively see your children as separate from you with their own unique strengths and challenges. Parents often have dreams for their children and when they "remain fixed, untempered by our children's reality, our children pay the price" says Thompson. In addition, children are naturally resilient and are able to survive difficulties with friends and encounters with strict teachers. Parents have a hard time watching their children make mistakes and experience pain, yet this is certain to happen. Parents must constantly learn how much to help their child and how much their child must undertake on their own with support. Thompson also states "a parent's calm concern and expression can help; a parent's anxiety and fears never do."
Having children return to school may bring up many emotions in parents and, of course, children. While parents' intentions are often good, and they want their children to succeed, their actions can cause some damage. Using the above skills on this constantly difficult journey will serve to make it more peaceful for parents and productive for their children.
Licensed professional counselor Julia Kozusko is a parent coach with Elevated Parenting, LLC and has led the Incredible Years Parenting Program for seven years. Through the nonprofit Early Childhood Partners, she consults with teachers, home visitors and parents at local child care centers, Early Head Start, Head Start and the Nurse Family Partnership. Kozusko's work is regularly featured on her blog, http://www.elevatedparenting.com. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.