As parents, we are constantly trying to find the right balance between the extremes. Hands on or hands off? Am I doing too much? Or am I doing too little?
I’m a parent with children in three very different stages: My youngest son is in elementary school, my daughter in middle school and my oldest son in high school. I’ve also taught in preschool, elementary and middle school settings.
After attending three Open Houses this fall, I can’t stop thinking about how much is expected of teachers and parents these days. The biggest change in teachers today is how much they are expected to communicate with us parents.
And as a parent, I’m expected to somehow keep up with it all. The Remind updates, Group Me texts, Twitter, Instagram, class websites, school websites, emails, newsletters, calendars, Sign Up Geniuses and a separate website to monitor grades. I’m supposed to keep it all straight for all three of my kids. With multiple teachers and coaches.
Wait a minute. Why? I’m not in first grade, or seventh grade or even tenth grade. It just sometimes feels like I am!
A key question I regularly ask myself with teaching and parenting is: Who is doing the work here? Who is feeling the ownership?
I sincerely worry that in our heartfelt quest to help our children, to be in the know about everything because we can, that we are actually hurting them.
What if . . . with our daily reminders of upcoming tests, nagging about assignments due, and constant checking of grades . . . we are actually communicating that we don’t think our children are capable? Are we saying they can’t remember, finish, or focus without our help? That we don’t believe they can really do it on their own? Could this be why so many are struggling? We don’t want them to fail, to get in trouble or to not be able to play in the game, so we step in.
Teachers and parents have a similar goal: we want to increase children’s and teenagers’ confidence, understanding and abilities, to not just survive, but to thrive in this big world. The hardest part though is that it’s eventually without us. We don’t like that. But that’s the job. Because we won’t be around forever.
Some of you may be thinking that you’re really hands off so this doesn’t apply. You take more of a sink or swim approach. But I’m not actually saying children and teens don’t need our help. They do, but ideally less or in different ways as they grow older.
As a parent and teacher, here’s one thing I’ve learned: What I take on as mine—my responsibility—is often hard to get others to take back.
So here are three things you’d hear me asking all three of my kids every day after school:
- What do you have on your plate tonight?
- What’s your plan to get it done?
- Do you need anything?
You’ll notice that all of these questions emphasize that this is their work, not mine. But I’m also available and interested.
For my Elementary School child, this looks like:
• Creating a box of supplies they regularly need to get homework done.
• Finding a good spot to work, usually at the kitchen table and another comfy spot to read.
• Dividing big tasks up into smaller ones that feel easier and faster to complete.
• Letting them choose what to get done out of the smaller tasks and in what order.
• Noticing when they are frustrated and encouraging them to ask for help or to take a break before trying again.
• Role playing how to talk with a teacher or another child at school and how to handle different responses that may come up. Celebrating their bravery.
For my Middle School student, this looks like:
• Encouraging them to communicate in advance when they need special supplies for projects, preferably not the morning they need them!
• Knowing that some days they might like to stay close to work and other days they might also need a desk or area where they can work quietly on their own.
• Helping them to figure out what system works best for them to keep track of all the deadlines and daily work—planner where they write by hand, digital option on their phones, whiteboard calendar in their room or some combination.
• Similarly, do they need a folder for each class, or an accordion file so it’s all at their fingertips or just one folder for all work that needs to be done that day or week to simplify things.
• Helping them decide if they need a break before jumping into school work or if they prefer to just get it all done so the rest of the night is free?
• Deciding in advance how many times you will bring something that’s forgotten up to school.
• Encouraging them to email teachers and coaches or to go and see them about any concerns or questions they have. Role playing what might happen or brainstorming what they might say.
For my High School student, this looks like:
• Repeating and refining things we’ve tried in earlier years to see if they still work or need to be adjusted or changed completely.
• Working on my own tasks nearby, not saying anything, just providing company.
• Talking through what I have on my plate, how I feel about it, my plan to get it done, what I’ll need, successes and mistakes I’ve made.
• Shifting into even more of an advisory role, waiting to be asked for my thoughts or opinions, even when it’s really hard to sit back and see what happens.
Let’s empower and encourage our children and teenagers, instead of enabling or entitling them. You’ve heard of Tiger moms and Helicopter parents. But have you heard of Lawnmower parents? This term is being used by college professors and companies to describe a new breed of parent that comes in during office hours to discuss their child’s, now a young adult, latest grade or goes along to a first interview to negotiate a fair salary and time off. But this isn’t our goal. This isn’t parenting with the end in mind.
A great quote by Thomas Johnson sums up what I think our mission is, “Prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child.”
What do you find most hard about all this? What else would you recommend trying?