“In order to develop normally, a child needs the enduring irrational involvement of one or more adults in care of and in joint activity with that child. In short, somebody has got to be crazy about that kid.” ~Brofenbrenner
Parenting is hard. Kids don’t come with a manual and what works well for one is absolutely wrong for another. It can become even trickier when kids hit school. Educators do have training and experience but not with your child. Here are a few suggestions about how to navigate parenting your school-aged student in a way that best supports their strengths and sets them up for a positive experience.
Take the lead. I suggest a short (no novels please!) email explaining what you think is useful for your child’s teacher to know in order to successfully form a relationship with your child. Mine look something like this:
Welcome to team Maddox! We are excited that Maddox is in your class and wanted you to know a few things about him that might be helpful.
- Maddox is a popular kid who is also a successful athlete, you might not notice that he can be highly sensitive to criticism
- Maddox has a massive sense of justice which can be both a strength and a weakness (as we all know life isn’t always fair)
- praise is the best way to reward Maddox
- Maddox has an autoimmune disease and may be absent when it flares up. He is comfortable speaking with you about this.
- Maddox’s strengths are loyalty, kindness, perseverance, and hard work
Don’t helicopter or snowplow. We’ve all been tempted to solve all the problems for our children before they happen; flying on the edges of their life and swooping in (like a helicopter) to save the day. It’s easy to believe that keeping your child free of stress and adversity means they are having a wonderful childhood. Research has shown this is just not true. When a parent bulldozes (or snowplows) any obstacle that comes toward their child, the child does not learn effort, perseverance, resilience or how to fail.
Remember, context matters. You only know your child at home.You know more about the strengths and challenges historically. For moms and dads sending their child to school for the first time it’s important to remember you know how they behave at home, or maybe in a daycare setting but this isn’t always how they behave at school. My chatterbox, Tygre, was so quiet on her visiting day at our school that the other children all asked me “can she talk?” when I picked her up. Other kids who may challenge more boundaries at home are rule followers in a classroom setting.
You are all on the same team, why not speak the same language. In positive education we use the language of strengths- character strengths. Research has shown that when a community all understands the language of strengths, students flourish. (Lavy, 2018) I highly recommend reading The Strengths Switch- How the New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen to Flourish by Lea Waters.
Advocate for your child. Teachers are busy. Not just busy- they have overcrowded classrooms that they resource themselves while delivering curriculum in a way that must compete with iPhones and YouTube in order to stay relevant and engaging. In your child’s career as a student, they will run into a teacher who is a bad match for their learning style. Two simple suggestions that can help your child to thrive when an instructor isn’t a good match:
- Check that your own bias isn’t impacting your child. My first son, Maddox, had a social studies teacher who was a really bad match for his learning style. When his brother Braxton landed in the same class 4 years later, my knee-jerk reaction was to ask for a switch. Instead I zipped my lips, didn’t mention the history to Braxton and let him decide how he felt about this teacher. Turns out, he got along well in her class and was motivated by the exact same style that had been demotivating for his brother.
- Find another teacher on campus who can fill the void. If you drew the short straw for math teachers, find a tutor or education assistant or a sport coach who happens to love math who can model love of math for your child.
*If the match is causing your child to lose sleep, to feel like they aren’t smart or to start avoiding school by faking sickness then it’s time to suggest a change. By change I am not suggesting a change of teacher. Talk to the principal or school counselor and ask for their advice or suggestions. They have a wealth of educational psychology knowledge that can make all the difference! Change your child’s mindset. Change the teacher’s opinion of your child. Change the seating in the classroom. Work together until you find something that changes your child’s experience from negative to positive. (Have an open mind- solutions don’t happen overnight but they do happen!)
To circle back to Brofenbrenner’s quote, ask yourself who at school has noticed the unique and wonderful attributes that others might not see in your child. The answer will point you to your best allies on a path forward that includes finding other role models, mentors, and positive educational experiences that all lead to your child thriving at school. And at the end of the day, that’s all most parents can ask for!