On the eve of their return for another school year, I’m reminded once again that there are some things about that first day of school that never get easier.
They are always going to wonder what their new teachers have in store for them. What challenges are they going to face? Will that kid that bullied other kids on the playground or in the cafeteria still be terrorizing them for yet another year? Will they be tempted to try drugs, struggle with alcohol, pornography, morality issues and a bus load of other things that challenge a kids ability to do well in school and not be a social pariah in the process?
I check through that mental list many times and I realize that there are few things on that list that haven’t changed from when I was a kid. And yet, my sons will experience these things in a very different world from when I was a confident yet shy young man. I also realize that sometimes I experience more anxiety as a parent than my kids do.
I wonder if they’re utilizing the things they learn in our home and in church. I cringe when I think of the hardships and the heartaches they will endure that I can never prevent no matter how hard I try to shield them from ‘reality’. In the end I know that boys fueled by an abundance of testosterone and girls with an equal amount of estrogen in their systems thrown together into the complex social lab called ‘school’ learn more about themselves in the course of one school year than they do about structuring a proper sentence, the breakdown of an atom and the geographic location and culture of the nomadic plains people of Mongolia.
If we are good parents, we are going to stress about these things before, during and after the school year. Here are five things I’ve learned that help minimize our stress as parents during the year.
- Set expectations – Your child will never know that kicking another kid in the shins, tying a kids shoelaces to their desk or looking at porn in the school library are unacceptable unless they are told. And even though they already know that getting straight-A’s is a given, they may not know your level of seriousness on the matter unless you sit them down and actually tell them that D’s and F’s on a report card will have serious repercussions. Set aside some time in this first week of school to really map out a plan, ask how they will accomplish their academic goals and hold them to it. This has yielded major success for us in the past with our boys.
- Accountability – Your student has goals but they need to revisit them often and have your support in accomplishing those goals. You’ve asked for them to be accountable and responsible, now they are asking you to be accountable to hold up your end of the deal. If you promise them a reward for getting good grades or scoring an ‘A’ on that difficult Math exam, then you have to follow-through just like you would follow-through on consequences when they don’t do what’s expected of them. If you can’t hold up your end of the deal, there’s no way that you can expect them to do it either.
- Monitoring – This goes hand-in-hand with accountability. Your student isn’t always going to be on his best behavior, especially when he has a dozen other activities that he’s involved with and things that are drawing his attention. These days you can pull up their grades and see what assignments they are missing or upcoming assignments that they should be aware of. Spend at least 10-minutes every other day reviewing their grades and validating that their work is being done. It seems like a lot, but you’re setting a precedent that your child will expect this behavior from you and he will eventually learn to do it on his own without being prompted.
- Encourage – When you were a kid did you enjoy hearing the relentless onslaught of complaints from your parents? I didn’t and I can tell you with confidence that the times that I wanted to do well, are the times when my parents sat me down and told me that I had the capacity and the ability to do the work. The positive reinforcement helped me get through school even when I felt like it was too difficult to endure. Tell them how good they’ve done in past assignments, encourage them to expand and broaden their talents. That has helped bolster my sons’ abilities as students and its helped them realize how much I care about them as people, not just as straight-A students.
- Love – It is the ‘X-Factor’. Before the beginning of every school year Super Mom and I take a moment to talk with them individually and as a group. We let them know our love for them, give them blessings and really ingrain in their young minds the fact that no matter what happens, good or bad, we love them and wish nothing but the best for them during the school year and always. My kids know that their mom loves them because they see and feel it from her all the time. But knowing that their dad loves them just as much gives my sons confidence and the fortitude to do what needs to be done.