Last Updated On: February 5th, 2021
1. Be honest and open with them about your expectations for their academic career.
I think this is the hardest one. If you’re like me, you grew up in a household with expectations that were never spoken of, but were known. My parents, both with graduate degrees and more, expected me to go to a prestigious college and study something that interested me.
Now as I watch my students go through these same life-shaping experiences: getting into college, applying themselves in high school, taking SATS, I realize the supreme value in being open about this discussion.
Perhaps you have a vision for your child that revolves around medicine and law. However, they might feel this is unattainable and not aligned with their life’s purpose. While you may not want to pay for your child’s degree in athletics or basket weaving, it’s still worth it to have the open discussion and find a balance between what you want for them, what they deserve, and what they want for themselves. I think if we’re honest with ourselves, everyone wants what they weren’t given during their own childhood. Set aside your belief system and come to an understanding of what suits all parties.
If they have a desire for a career in a field like science or math it’s important to give them the tools and expectations required to get into medical school after four years of college. These kinds of discussions are hard for teens, but are essential if they have lofty goals.
2. Tell them stories about yourself during adolescence.
What you have learned?
Kids love STORIES, especially about their parents when they were teens or young adults. I couldn’t tell you the name of my great grandfather’s sisters, but I sure could tell you about that time my mother refused to take the secretarial track in 10th grade because she wanted more opportunity and to be educated like the men in her grade level.
Tell them about the time you failed a social studies test after studying all night. Tell them about the time you begged your language arts teacher for a retake. Tell them anything and everything that allows them to relate to you.
If you want to instill trust in your relationship with your child, you have to give them the same trust in return. All relationships no matter the power dynamic or age difference require a level of sharing in order to be successful. Perhaps your kid is struggling with adolescence and their first crush. They don’t know what to do or how to act. Tell them about your first crushes. Tell them the things that worked and the things that failed miserably. Allowing your child to see you’re not a superhero that succeeded at all things known to mankind is 100% helpful for their development. As children we worship our parents and put them on these invincible pedestals. By giving them the opportunity to know the real you and the person you’ve grown to become, you allow them the same opportunities to fail and trust you for support.
3. Assume the best, expect the worst.
Like any new trial run, you have to give people the opportunity to fail until they succeed. It’s like riding a bike. If you want to offer your child more independence, you have to give them the chance to ride the bike.
I recommend starting their independence young. Middle school, right around 6th grade, is a great time to give this a test run. The first thing they can start with is homework management. Do they know what they have to do that day? That week? Can they get their assignments in on time? Do you have to check up on them throughout the evening? Try getting to a place where you don’t have to nag and check in with interrogative questions every night. Sure, it may be hard to let go of that control at first, but it’s necessary to allow them the space to try.
At first it may not go well. Maybe they will need a hand with organizing their assignments. They may even consider an executive functioning tutor or academic tutor. To learn more about executive functioning 101 check out my blog outlining this topic: Executive Functioning: How To Help With Organization. Whichever route you take, be sure to have patience and grace with your kid. Just like you, they are facing a pandemic and a fried school system that is still working out MANY kinks.
Now that we’re approaching the beginning of schools reopening remember to continue to discuss what everything could look like for them. No matter what age, kids like to know and be ready for what’s to come. It helps them feel a sense of safety. Preparing your kids for the new school year during COVID-19 – Boston Children’s Discoveries
Just remember if they fail in their new environment, it’s just middle school. They have so much time to develop fresh habits and bridge the gaps in high school. In middle schools educators are also much more lenient and open to fostering student growth. If your kid is struggling with newfound independence in a new school with new expectations, speak to the teacher. Be communicative and let them know you are trying this out with your child and it’s a work in progress. Nine out of ten educators will be there to support and encourage your student in this developmental stage and they will be delighted that you included them in the process. Promise, I’ve seen it. Educators are there to help and most are overjoyed to motivate kids that they see potential in.
4. Allow your child to be in charge of their calendar.
This is very important. Of course you can’t look at an elementary school student and ask them to start managing their tasks, but I truly think a middle school student has this capability. They can use a planner or a calendar in their phone or maybe on the computer to begin this stage of independence. Maybe in the first semester it will be quite a bit of reminding and asking them to look at their calendar (that you have also added to), but let the growing pains exist naturally. Tell them to make an iCal or Google Calendar for their extracurriculars and when they have events or big projects due. Tell them to update it every day before they start homework. Make it a big shared calendar to start so you can see all the items they enter. Then eventually they will start to develop the habit naturally. They will know what their schedule is. They will rely less on you to remind them. They will build a routine that allows them to be independent and enables you to trust them. Allow them to grow into the responsibility in junior high school so they have the reigns by high school.
5. Always focus on positive reinforcement.
What does this mean? I see a lot of parents struggle trying to implement this system. The trick is finding out what they want. Are they a lover of TV time? Do they obsess over new video games? Would they prefer 10 extra minutes of social media time? Now find a way to have them earn the reward of your choosing. Be realistic too. Is it a reward that they really want? Something they can’t just get themselves at a drop of a hat. If it’s something you’re not comfortable giving then that’s no good either. Make sure the compromise is met on both sides. Then allow them time to earn it.
For example, I had a student who I designed a Candy Land style game for. He was actually in elementary school, but really needed that positive reinforcement and suspense between prizes. Each time we had a productive lesson he would move 5 squares.
FYI: Grade students. THEY LOVE GRADES. Even if you give them 4 spaces for an unfocused, semi-productive lesson, they will love this. It shows them there are rewards, but they have to be earned.
When he hit the bonus/prize squares his mom would give him a prize of her choosing. This worked well for my student because not only did it leave him feeling excited after every lesson, but he also loved the suspense. For a student in middle school, I might skip the game board and say something like if you turn in all your work on time this week you can get 20 extra minutes of TV time. For high school students, I could say for report cards with only As and Bs you get to have a socially distant beach day with your friends. If you’re still hunting for the perfect reward system for you and your child, check out our blog on Expert Tips for Learning and Teaching from Home.
Ultimately, finding something that they see as rewarding and that makes you feel comfortable is the way to go. Consequences are important, but with COVID and the online school day it’s hard to banish a kid to their room when they’ve been sitting there for a year already. Better to focus on positivity and encouragement during this chaotic school year.
6. Be there.
One very understated tool that will always promote a health, trusting relationship with your child is being present and being there. Now being there doesn’t just mean being in the house when they do their homework. In fact it’s almost the opposite. Being there means being a support system for your child. The Raising Children Network says it best, “Help children feel secure and loved, which gives them confidence to explore their world, try new things and learn.” To read the entire article visit: Positive relationships for families.
Sometimes, who am I kidding, ALWAYS, kids don’t know when to ask for help. They’re young and foolish, so they think they can do everything, but you’re the adult here and you know better. Just be there and without being intrusive or disappointed offer your child help. Be casual. Throw it out there. “Hey hunny. Need any help on your essay?” “Want me to edit any of your homework for you?” It’s simple and it’s small, but it’s truly the thought that counts. Because one day your kid WILL need your help and they’ll remember those times you offered guidance and support. The times you were present and THERE. And that will be the moment they remember how invaluable you are and how thankful they are for you and this cohesive relationship you’ve built.