As parents, we can help our child negotiate the school year with these 9 strategies that help reduce stress for your child and for your family.
1. Define success on your own terms. The prevailing culture focuses on measurable achievement (GPA, ACT scores, college admissions, sports an extracurricular accomplishment, and so on) in defining success. Be clear what success looks like for your family, and make sure your kids understand that.
2. Create a family plan. Determine the level of extracurricular activity and academic load that works for your family, and don’t overdo it. For example, if your high school kid wants to play a demanding sport, consider dropping an honors or AP class to balance it out. With younger kids, set limits on how many after-school activities they can do so you have downtime and dinnertime regularly.
3. Insist on food and water. Kids need to eat nutritious meals, not fast food and on-the-fly fillers like Power Bars. A leading determinant on youth wellness and achievement is regular family dinners, so make those a priority. And insist that your kids get adequate sleep (5-12 years old = 10-11 hours; teens = 9 ½ hours), which may mean cutting back on excessive after school activities.
4. Allow for playtime, down time and family time. Control the family schedule so that kids have playtime, down time and family time. Kids and parents alike need time just to play, unwind, relax and “do nothing.” Similarly, families need time to connect and have fun together. If finding time for this is challenging, start by “scheduling” down time and family time first and then work activities around that, rather than vice versa.
5. Ease excessive performance pressure. Examine the subtle messages you give your kids. For example, if the first thing you ask your kids when they come home from school is, “How did you do on the test?” or “Have you done your homework?” the implicit message is school performance is the most important thing to you.
6. End the homework war. If homework is a power struggle, then it’s likely that you are too invested in it. Consider your role with your child’s homework analogous to a parent’s role with a child who plays soccer: support the child and cheer for her (e.g., get her supplies and a space to work and encourage her), but don’t go onto the field to coach her or tell her what to do (e.g., micro-managing homework and getting overly invested in the result) or kick the ball for her (e.g., doing the work for her). Let kids make mistakes and fail, especially when the stakes are relatively low like with homework. Life’s best lessons and “teachable moments” come from mistakes and failures. When we rescue our children, we deny them the opportunity to develop resilience and fortitude as they struggle with challenges.
7. Debunk the college myths. Focus your message to your kids on finding the right fit for them, not simply getting into “brand name” colleges. Research shows that it’s the individual, not the institution that ultimately determines success. (See the study highlighted the October 2004 Atlantic Monthly article “Who Needs Harvard?”) It’s better for kids to seek a college whose culture and characteristics match what’s important to them, rather than just pursuing admission to a prestigious college.
8. Listen to your gut and your child. The prevailing culture often suggests that you have to push your kids and involve them in lots of activities or “they’ll fall behind.” Fear of having a child “Fall behind” is a prevalent parental anxiety, and there’s a lot of pressure among parents to “keep up with the Joneses.” Instead, trust your instincts and set a pace for your kids that work for them and your family. Keep an eye on how your kids are doing, talk to them about how they are feeling, and calibrate activities accordingly.
9. Develop a community of like-minded parents. Parent peer pressure is sometimes hard to buck, so find like-minded parents who can provide support as you define success on your own terms. Seek mentors-parents of older kids whom you respect-who can provide insight and guidance as you approach new development stages with your own kids.
These strategies come from Stanford University School of Education’s Challenge Success program: Championing a Broader Version of Success for Our Youth. For more information about this Stanford’s program go to www.challengesuccess.org. They were originally published in the Parent Link column of the Barrington High School PTO newsletter, thanks to Barb Karon of Barrington, who was featured as an education innovator in the August 2011 issue of Make It Better.
Barb Karon’s Book Recommendations
- Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings by Kenneth R. Ginsburg
- Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed-Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students by Denise Clark Pope
- The Blessing of a B Minus: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Resilient Teenagers by Wendy Mogel
- The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel