As the lazy days of summer wind down, children of all ages will trade in their swim caps for their thinking caps. The start of the school year elicits feelings from excitement to dread. I often hear children, particularly adolescents, discussing September the way one may discuss January. A new year, filled with new potential. While they may not be making “resolutions,” per se, they are setting expectations for themselves. And so are their parents. Unfortunately, once the winter rolls around, they may experience disappointment that they didn’t achieve their goals.
Here are ways to avoid the winter let-down by creating a successful environment in your home:
What you can do to help yourself:
- Aim for less conflict: Write a list of your academic non-negotiables; ie: homework before internet, homework is done in a calm environment, etc. Have your partner do the same. Compare notes. From there, create one unified list of 3-5 rules and share it with your child. These are the things you will fight about. Let everything else go. In addition to making your house feel less like a war-zone, it helps your child identify priorities. Best part, you feel less like a nag!
- Ask yourself, “What can I tolerate?”: Just like when your child was a baby and you decided if you were the type of parent who could stand to hear him cry in the night or if you were the type to jump in and soothe him back to sleep, ask yourself now, if you can stand to watch your child flounder, and if so, how much. That is to say, decide consciously how involved you want to be in his school work. Set limits for yourself about when you jump in and when you stay out. This will help your child see you as a more neutral party.
- Be someone your child can talk to: Minus the conflict but plus the neutrality, you become a person your child can go to when she has a problem. If she’s feeling she hasn’t lived up to her goals, she can turn to you, and you can offer both an empathic ear and suggestions for how to be more successful.
What you can do to help your child:
- Help your child set realistic goals: Together, map out 2-3 goals for the first month, not for the whole year. Starting small will allow room for error. If your son wants to hand in all homework assignments, but misses one, you still have time to discuss ways to avoid this problem in the next month. Also, going month-by-month helps him to avoid a hole he can’t easily get out of.
- Help create organizational systems: Many kids falter because they don’t know how to organize their work, not because they don’t know how to do their work. Resist the urge to organize for her. Instead, teach her the skills. Be sure to empathize rather than criticize.
- Ask him what he sees as his pitfalls and ask how you can help: It’s much easier to accept help if it’s the help you believe you need, rather than the help someone else believes you need. If he doesn’t know right away, tell him you will be there when he does. This will keep the lines of communication open.
Once there is less tension and more talking, it is less likely you and your child will fall into the same patterns. If you do find yourself repeating old mistakes, take a step back and have empathy for both yourself and your child. It helps to remember that children want to be successful in the same ways that parents want them to be. You can also remind your child that the same is true for parents!