As students put away the flip-flops and put on backpacks this back-to-school season, many parents dread the arguments over homework, the amped-up scheduling and other parental stressors. Here are some tips to help parents manage the September Stress:
- What homework? My first rule is simple: Stop asking about homework, hovering over your child and checking homework.
From what I hear regularly from patients, parents today seem to be far too involved in “helicoptering” about homework issues.
What are you teaching your child when you ask relentlessly and anxiously about homework? Is she learning lessons about her ability to disappoint you if she gets a bad grade? Or maybe that you only care about academic success, not about her social or emotional fulfillment? Or that your self-image is defined by her grades?
Importantly, what are you teaching about personal responsibility when you daily remind an older child to do homework? Younger children need structure and direction most of the time. But as kids get along in elementary school these reminders should taper way off.
The way to teach about consequences is to let “natural consequences” occur. If your child forgets to do his homework, the result is he will feel embarrassed by his “0%” and realize he has disappointed himself, his teacher and his parents. He will not enjoy that sensation of shame, so he will likely change his behavior. By protecting him from learning this lesson you are not teaching him what I believe is one of the most important lessons of life — to acknowledge shame and learn be accountable for one’s behavior.
2. What, me worry?
Apologies for the antique cultural reference from my youth, but parents need to stop worrying about a child’s academic success.
Sure you want your child to be a “success.” But be honest. Consider the real reason for your worry. Is this worry more about YOUR fears of looking like a failure as a parent if your child does not do well in school? Is this worry largely due to YOUR fear of getting the call from the teacher or principal about a forgotten book report or a poor behavior? Do you have high expectations for yourself and are you passing those perfectionistic traits to your child?
While it is easy to believe that your child reflects on your self-worth as a parent, let go of this belief. Free yourself and your child. Let your child be his own person and make his own path.
3. Put away the tech.
Studies have found that too much exposure to gadgets and games in childhood causes cognitive delays, attention problems, increased tantrums, sleep deprivation, increased impulsivity and more.
Two studies by the University of Southern Maine showed that college students who merely had a cell phone sitting on their desk while doing a simple cognitive test performed 20% worse than students who did not have technology nearby. Just the mental distraction of thinking about the cell phone seemed to worsen performance, even if the students didn’t actually use it.
If kids are working on a computer, have them shut other tabs to social media sites.
4. Model your values.
You push your child to study and succeed academically. But when was the last time you read a book that was educational? Do you attend community education classes, visit museums or master a musical instrument? Do you watch PBS or educational TV shows? Do you discuss politics, current events, philosophy or religion at the dinner table or in the car?
5. Nix “How was your day?”
This article has 52 conversation-starter questions to use to replace that tired standby, “How was your day?”
In general, parents should focus on reducing anxiety surrounding school and making it a relaxing, enjoyable topic, so that kids experience learning as stress-free and maybe even fun!