Let’s talk about some challenging times as the kids go back to school!
By Terry Basile, local Marriage and Family Therapist.
Pre-School/Kindergarten – Often this is a time with as much emotional stress for us as our children. On my son’s first day of pre-school I dropped him off and immediately started crying. I stood outside a big window in front of the school sobbing when I noticed my son looking back at me with big crocodile tears running down his sad face. It was so hard for me on so many levels that I forgot that he would feel what I felt. Truthfully, as soon as I left he would then join the other kids and have a great day. He was ready for the stimulation and socialization of school. It would take me longer to accept that my role as a mother was changing. I would miss my ‘baby’ but soon I would enjoy this new stage and his excitement to learn and meet new friends. So give your child a drama free first day of school, check your emotions at the door or have someone else drop your child off.
First and Second Grade – Hopefully you were able to tour the school with your child at an orientation before school started. If not spend some extra time helping your child tour the school grounds. First grade is often very different than kindergarten with homework, more rules, new kids and a new teacher. Most teachers have a curriculum with standards they must meet. That also means that their job performance is in part judged by how the children in their class meet those standards. Yet not all children learn in the same ways or mature on command. For active children sitting at a desk is almost painful and concentrating for long periods of time is difficult. The first few years of school are when you will find out the strengths and challenges of your child’s learning style. Learning disabilities are often not yet diagnosed so you will need to be an advocate for your child. Rather than being adversarial create a ‘team’ effort with the teacher to respond to your child’s special needs. If you are concerned talk with the teacher about special testing or request an IEP( Individualized Educational Plan) which brings you together with the school psychologist, administrators and the classroom teacher to assess your child’s educational needs. The plan that is created is a legal document made to address those needs and must be reviewed with your involvement periodically.
Third to Sixth Grade – These are the years when appearance and social groups become more important. Yes, you will lose part of your child to media, sports and the mall. With changing hormones comes less attention in the classroom and homework may become a nightly struggle. Some children will want to start having girlfriends or boyfriends. They may look and think that they are teens but they are not. So be prepared to set limits on social events and dating. You still need to know who they are with and where they go. I suggest no official dating but group events are acceptable. This is where you begin to ‘pick your battles’ but you are still very much in charge. Kids begin to seek independence but are not developmentally prepared for what that means. You have every right to set guidelines for what games they play, what music is acceptable and how to dress age appropriately. And be clear about your policy about checking phones and computers. I would recommend that you do periodically check all media accounts. Expecting a child to resist the temptation of some inappropriate internet sites and games is unrealistic. Remember to reward positive behavior with something like getting to pick the family activity such as a movie, meal or day trip.
Junior High School- The tension around all the issues I just talked about increase with the onset of adolescence. Now you will need to give your child chances to start being independent gradually. So start with something simple. For example, let them ride their bike to school or spend two hours with their friends unsupervised hanging out at a safe place in the community. Explain to them that they need to earn trust by showing that they are responsible. This is an important lesson for them. We want them to know how they can earn freedoms rather than become frustrated and just take them.
Cell phones are now how you stay in contact with your child. If they don’t answer when you call to check in there should be consequences. Be careful not to use withholding the phone or video games as your only consequence. It is how children today keep socially connected and release stress.
Junior high school is a new challenge academically for your teen. They need you to check homework and stay connected to class teachers through email and conferences. Young teens are often overwhelmed and need your support to stay on track academically. If it becomes a battle think about hiring a tutor or have an adult they trust help them. Frame this as support not punishment. At this age they are starting to separate from you and some teens have a hard time letting parents see them struggle at anything. You will have less family time with your teen so find strategies to make it fun!