School is one of the most important contributors to our child’s future. At school children are pushed to put forth maximum mental energy to learn academic, social and physical education lessons. They receive feedback in the form of grades to tell them how they are doing – are they falling behind, or are they at the front of the pack? However, when we as adults look back at our own childhood, we are more likely to fondly remember free time having fun with friends than school lessons. Truly, the time spent having fun and “goofing around” is likely when you learned many important lessons that could not be taught in school. Today’s parents are pressured to pushing their children’s academic achievement at home even beyond the basics of homework. School report cards and grades are indicators not only of our child’s success, but of our own success as parents. While we all want our child to achieve to their highest potential and supporting a child with homework is necessary, home must also provide a peaceful respite in which children can recharge and be valued for their whole self. Where can children wind down and enjoy being young if not at home? Where can they learn to the invaluable lessons beyond academics – the social and emotional skills necessary for them to relax and enjoy the life they are working so hard to build? Academic success, while easily measured and reported, is not the whole picture of our child’s development. Children must also learn to enjoy life too.
Sometimes wanting to be the best isn't always the best for your child
All children reach developmental milestones at their own pace, but “normal” or “average” developmental ranges are used as educational guidelines so materials and information can be provided at an age-appropriate level. For example, current practice indicates children should know letter sounds and begin to read by the end of kindergarten. A child who is not developmentally ready to master these skills will seem to be falling behind. Parents then feel pressure do more at home to increase the child's rate of learning – even if that child cannot learn the skill due to their individual developmental pace. Many times I have worked with families who were so focused on academic achievement they were unceasing in the practice of academic skills. Their child eventually became exhausted, beaten down and suffered from low self worth because they could never meet their parent’s expectations. This is a problem even for gifted students. Most children, no matter their intelligence, will eventually encounter an academic area in which they struggle. If parents are hyper-focused on their child being the best in the class at all costs, the result is a child who believes only their grades matter, not their efforts. They struggle to achieve the unachievable expectations set by their parents and may learn that mistakes, failure and anything short of perfect is unacceptable. In short, they become very stressed. A stressed adult is slower to grow and make progress than a relaxed adult. A stressed CHILD is stunted in an even greater number of areas: academically, socially and emotionally. At this critical point in their life children need to have things that bring them joy and pride in addition to their academic success.
Pro-Tip: Being a mindful parent means evaluating what is too much, too little or just right for your child. When parents choose to give their children the gift of time and space, most children will be successful in learning and will do so with their self-esteem intact. Discard unrealistic expectations to always push your children to do more and embrace the person your child is.
Assessing aptitude for skills not on the report card
As parents we expect our child’s academic achievements to be reported as grades – on homework, quizzes, tests and in-class participation. We have learned to ask for explicit information on areas in which our child is strong and areas that more focus is needed. Parents should also be asking about the non-academic areas of growth as well. Parents might need to understand how the child organizes their work and space, how they navigate socially and whether communication skills, such as speaking and listening are adequately developing, not to mention what level of critical thinker the child is.
If, for example, a parent learns that the child struggles to remember the need to share and take turns, the parent has multiple low key opportunities to provide practice opportunities, at home, such as playing games in which taking turns and waiting is required, or simply reminding all family members at dinner, to be mindful of waiting to speak instead of interrupting. Even better, compliment the times that your child does wait their turn, shares appropriately or avoids interrupting;
Pro-Tip: Noticing desired behaviors often encourages more of the same .
-noticing children's efforts and attempts can be as simple as smiling at the child,
patting them on the back (research supports the idea that touch is a motivating
behavior for many people) or warmly commenting about the progress they are making
For example, "Wow, you used a lot of patience when you waited for your sister
to finish before you spoke. Keep it up!"
Despite federal and state guidelines to the contrary, our children need their adults to resist the emphasis on testing as the sole measurement by which they are judged. Asking for input from the school on these non-academic issues can help you assess your child’s resilience and guide you when to push them harder – and when to give given them more space and time.
Questions to ask of your child's school might include:
How does my child interact with peers and adults?
How does my child respond to constructive feedback from teachers and peers (do they listen and reflect to improve)?
In what ways do my child's strengths show themselves in school?
How does my child learn strategies to think critically?
What tools are used to help my child understand how to get started with and complete tasks?
How does my child learn how to evaluate his work before sharing it?
Does my child's confidence level match the range of skills being taught at school?
What is one area I can work on at home with my child to help him feel more confident?
Academics matter - but Self-Esteem matters, too
None of this is intended to say that children should not be held to high expectations for their academic achievement at school. Nor is it wrong to present practice opportunities at home and provide encouragement to children to do their best at their schoolwork. However, when 8 year-olds are spending more than 30 minutes a night on homework a mindful parent should be concerned as it is not developmentally appropriate. All children should be confident in the knowledge that their reading or math level does not define them – especially in the early years when developmental milestones are frequent and varied. There are many opportunities for children to see their worth outside of academic achievement and some of the best opportunities to experience these other avenues is by relaxing and having fun. As children grow, their capacity for focus and work increases, but should still be managed if we want them to develop into well rounded, happy, adults. With intentional messaging and teaching, children can experience success with whatever they choose at a pace that is appropriate for their learning profile.
As parents, it is your right to think critically about what is in the best interest of your child even if it is flies in the face of current education trends. When making decisions about your child's education and more importantly, the actions within your household, it is healthy to assess your child's strengths and well being against what school might indicate is valuable. When making the decision to forgo sending your child to summer school because they are anxious or frustrated at school, or simply need a break from the classroom, you are exercising your right as a parent to make sound decisions in the best interest of your child. By keeping the end goal of a healthy, happy, emotionally grounded child in mind, decisions regarding how much to push and when to pause become simpler. Ask yourself, "How will this impact my child? Will they be better off as a result of these decisions? Or will they suffer unnecessarily?" It is natural to help your child reach their highest potential and provide opportunities to compete and be successful. Yet, when parents consider the whole child, with an eye to the child's future, it is possible to acknowledge that there are many ways to compete as well as practice cooperation. Parents who embrace the 'work hard, play hard" mindset, have children who value them as well. Teaching your child early in life that it is valuable and healthy to pause work for relaxation to recharge their spirit and mind could become the soft skill your child most needs to learn.
Have you had opportunities to help your child grow beyond the report card at home and in what ways? If so, how did you choose the area on which to focus? Did you receive input from the classroom teacher, and did you find the efforts improved your child's self concept and performance? Please leave comments below and as always thanks for reading!