By Patricia Calabrese, PMHNP & Tony Calabrese, PhD
Parents often start the school year with an overwhelming list of errands, chores, and deadlines. Stores are filled with kids being dragged around to buy clothes, uniforms, new sneakers, backpacks, notebooks, pencils, and pens. Required forms, in triplicate, are flying between school offices and kitchen tables. Calendars soon start to fill up with football practices, soccer games and tryouts for band and cheerleading. It’s a very busy time!
Some might remember a funny television commercial, a few years back, selling supplies for the start of school accompanied by the tune, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” The faces of the parents, all smiles, were in sharp contrast to their kids, all frowns and it was funny because it had some truth. The start of a school year can be a happy and also a stressful time for children. But it is also stressful for the parents regardless of the smiles in that commercial.
Parents can easily get overwhelmed with all the necessary activities to ensure that their children have what they need to start on time and prepared. But some thought should also be given to planning the school year to help assist our children succeed in academics and to acquire necessary social skills—both of which are essential for success in later life.
For the parents, this involves modeling behavior, making time to discuss the upcoming school year, teaching children to set short and long-term goals, and providing structure such as having a schedule where time is devoted to homework, practice, and chores. Many hopes and dreams (also fears and worries) can be seen on the faces of parents as they drop their kids off on the first day. A little preparation and planning could help lessen some of these concerns.
Setting the tone for the conversation with your kids about the importance of education and how it affects their future is very important. Reviewing the last school year, citing both problems and successes, helps to structure the conversation and gives a jumping off point to the idea of goal setting. A non-judgmental approach is important in listening to your child and your child listening to you.
This plan will help make goals that you and your child can live with. Is a grade of A+ in math this year a realistic goal, or is a B or even a C+ more plausible in a difficult subject? Children need guidance and feedback to develop mid-term goals as well as making a schedule of everyday practices such as homework, which will contribute toward the goal they have set.
While homework is best done before other activities—outside playtime, TV, and video games—it is also important to provide structure by making a decision. For example, if parents set 3–4 p.m. as homework time, then it needs to happen at that time as consistent expectations help achieve goals. Success typically follows consistency and structure.
Another priority for parents, along with learning, is the socialization of your child with his or her peers. Socializing is a skill, like any other, that may be taught, and for children this learning typically occurs in a team environment. Your child may want to join a sports team, or run for office in student council, or learn a musical instrument. As a parent you may want to provide guidance by asking if your child has set a realistic goal? Are they aware of the time and commitment that is involved? Learning the violin or playing football will take time and effort. Getting your child involved in some activity is important, but it needs to be the right activity—combining interest and ability.
Children should be encouraged to participate with peers in some activity. The activity sought does not need to be sports or the band but it does need to be something. Studies show that children involved with some form of extracurricular activity tend to do better in school, form relationships, and feel more self-confident.
If your child has no athletic or musical ability, then choose something else. If there is nothing else then develop something else (i.e., start a club), and if this doesn’t work—volunteer! Help your child find some need.
Giving of one’s time will assist in social development, as much, or even more, than the usual school activities but it will also provide self-satisfaction and confidence. Some people say, “If only I had more self-confidence I’d do something,” and the fact is when you do something you have more self-confidence.
We have one final thought. As parents you provide love, comfort, structure, and guidance to your children, but this is not the same as preventing them from failing at all costs—which is an impossible task. Someone once said, “When you give a child everything, you give them nothing.”
One thing you can do for your child is to let them fail and after this happens, listen hard, ask the right questions, provide feedback and help them with planning their next move. In so doing, your children will learn that failure is not the end of the world, support is available, and most importantly that they can try again. Much learning happens from our failures.
Listening carefully to our children is difficult for many parents because parents feel that they need to have all the answers, but good parenting is all about developing individuals who can find their own answers.
Anthony Calabrese, PhD is the Director of Pine Grove’s Outpatient Services. Patricia Calabrese, PMHNP, is a Nurse Practitioner for Pine Grove’s Outpatient Services.