By Ron Huxley, LMFT
Some children find school an exhilarating challenge, while others are overwhelmed. Parents of young children can help them by being more involved in school. If you have the time or a flexible work schedule, you can participate in the classroom one day a week. This affords you the opportunity to observe your child and to help the teacher, who probably has his or her hands full. You can see what problems your child has adjusting to the school routines and find ways, by modeling the teacher, to help your child. Your presence also gives the younger child a feeling of security to know mom or dad is close by. Unfortunately some parents do not have this flexibility to take off a day and participate in their child’s classroom. You can still stay involved by attending parent/teacher conferences, calling the teacher periodically to see how your child is doing, and keeping informed about overall school events as well as your child’s individual performance.
Parents can also reduce their child’s school daze by helping them learn good study skills and overcome homework malaise. Self-discipline can be a difficult trait to build, but it is crucial to academic success. While IQ is important, a child’s feeling of confidence in herself and her ability to master a subject is also critically important. Make sure your child knows how to study and finds it a positive, rewarding experience. You can do this by using the “Homework Hassles” parenting tool. In addition, you should encourage children’s natural curiosity to learn. Provide opportunities to discover new things. Get excited about your child’s projects, both at home and school. Post school work on the refrigerator door as if they are pieces of famous artwork. And talk regularly with your child about his feelings about school. Is he afraid of another student? Does he think the teacher is nice or mean? What is it like riding the bus, or eating school cafeteria food, or playing at recess? Who are his friends and why does he like them? Even busy parents can find time for these discussions.
Use communication parenting tools to validate a child’s feelings about school without getting caught up in them at the same time. Remember that empathizing with a child (hearing about feelings and acknowledging their validity) is different from sympathizing with a child (feeling what they feel, be it mad, overwhelmed, or dazed). The former allows the parent to help solve problems while the latter get parents caught up emotionally in the problem.