Ever get the feeling that parents of older children know the secrets to school success? We poured them a coffee and asked them to spill the beans.
What advice would you pass along over coffee to a kindergarten mom? As a mom of kids in Grades 1 and 5, I'd say get involved. After all, volunteering in your kid’s classroom or handing out pizza slices is one of the quickest ways to learn about the school’s dynamics. I'd also probably tell you to not sweat it when your child is put in a separate class from a close friend, and to have your little one practise ripping open cheese strings and granola bars before they step inside the kindergarten room.
Ottawa dad Craig Cudmore says above all, enjoy the ride, whether you’re talking about your junior kindergartener or your Grade 8 graduate. “School will be a challenge at times and tears may be shed. But you’ll also laugh a lot through the process, so enjoy it.” Along the way, Craig says not to forget about other learning opportunities. “It’s okay to take your kids out of school for a week to go on vacation. It’s okay to pick them up at lunch and go skiing or skating or throw around a ball for the afternoon. It’s okay to let them stay up late to work on a project together when there’s a looming deadline. Things like that will teach character and life skills, so have fun.”
Do other parents have similar advice? What would the parent of a middle schooler tell me? What secret tips would a high-school parent share with a middle school parent?
We asked experienced parents for the been-there-done-that advice they'd give to parents of younger students. Here’s what they had to say.
Make a Clean Break in the Morning: “Parents tend to hover and get involved and really it is better to have a nice clean separation. The longer you linger, the longer your child is upset. After you go, they’ll get distracted and busy with friends. So aim for a nice, neutral ‘Hey bud, you’re going to be okay. See you after school.’” Jennifer Kolari, mother of three, family therapist and author of Connected Parenting: How To Raise A Great Kid
Put On Your Poker Face: “Your kids are probably way less nervous than you are. Don’t let your kids see your anxiety. And make sure they visit the school during the summer to play in the yard and become familiar with it.” Erika Letson, Parents Canada Facebook page
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare: “Talk about school often, visit the school/playground and practise eating lunch out of a lunch bag. Talk about how exciting their new adventure will be. And if they haven’t been away from you very much, try to leave them more often with a friend, relative or enroll them in a licensed childcare program a couple days a week if feasible.” Tracey Struthers, Parents Canada Facebook page
Supersize Their Bag: “Keep a bag of extra clothes at the bottom of the knapsack. And buy a knapsack big enough for large library books. The kid-sized ones are cute, but everything will get lost if the bag isn’t big enough.” Blake Eligh, Toronto.
Make Meal Time Sharing Time: “Start a new trend at family dinner where everyone goes around the table to talk about one thing that happened during the day that made them happy and one thing that made them sad. This becomes second nature as the school years progress and a great way to keep on top of the kids and make sure they are okay.” Warren Orlans, UrbanDaddy blogger.
Help Them on the Bus: “If your child will be taking the bus, ask your child’s teacher or the bus driver/ monitor about a bus buddy system. If that’s not possible, ask what they have in place to make the transition a pleasant one for your child. Taking the bus can be overwhelming for little ones.” Tracey Struthers.
Use Accessible Lunch Containers: “I was afraid my kids wouldn't be able to get the lids off their reusable lunch containers so I put everything in resealable bags. It gave me peace of mind. Insulated containers for hot lunches do this weird heatsuction thing when you fi rst screw on the lid and it makes it almost impossible for little kids to unscrew them. So, if you’re packing a hot lunch, fi ll the container, screw on the lid, give it a little shake, unscrew the lid to release some pressure/steam, and then screw it back on again. It makes a big difference.” Renee Wilson, Stouffville, Ont.
Trust the Teachers: “Trust the school and trust the teachers and send a message to your kids that you trust the school and teachers. I see things like parents freaking out in Grade 1 for example because all of their child’s friends are in another class and the parent calls the school and demand their kid be moved. What happens in those moments of being without their friends teaches them resilience. That’s healthy adversity and they learn how to make new friends. And if you don’t trust the school, shield that from your kids. It’s important that they don’t feel scared going to school.” Jennifer Kolari
Get Chatty at School: “Build a solid rapport with the teachers and school staff. Sometimes you learn even more about what’s going on in the school from the offi ce staff than from the teachers. Let the teachers know what you can offer them as far as skills that can be used in the classroom. The goo teachers will fi nd ways to use them.” Craig Cudmore, Ottawa
Wait and See: "Before signing your kids up for extracurriculars, wait a few weeks to see how kids settle into the routine of a new grade. I had no idea how tired my kids would be after school, and we quit a few programs because they were too grouchy and exhausted.” Jennifer Pinarski, Kingston, Ont.
Be Hands-Off on Homework: “Don't let the homework fairy come and do their homework for them. If you start that early, you will be doing it all the way through school and giving your child the message that they can’t do things without you. If they leave an assignment until the last minute, let them fi gure out what happens. It’s good to learn that early because it never gets easier as they move up in school.” Jennifer Kolari
Pick Your Battles: “Know when to pick a battle over clothes or hair, and when to pick a battle over a real issue. If my kids wanted to wear different coloured socks to school, I encouraged it! Same holds when all the girls came to school as princesses and mine in a monkey costume. Be different and be proud about it.” Warren Orlans.
For Middle-School Parents
Know that Little Eyes are Still Watching: “Be a role model. Kids soak up everything. Every word you say and every action you take will come back to haunt you some day…or so it seems. Dating will eventually become a part of your child’s life so be a role model around the home of what they should look for in a partner – how they should treat others and expect be treated.” Craig Cudmore
Open Your Home: “If you want your child around, let your home be the gathering place for their friends.” Susan Newman
Get Ready for the Rebel: “Be prepared for them to dislike school. The message I send is life gets better and sometimes we have to do things we all don’t like…of course after secretly investigating if there is a bigger problem.” Carolyn Godfrey, Guelph, Ont.
Act Impartial: “Don't be shocked by the additional schoolwork and barrage of complaints that come with it from children entering middle school. Keep in mind that all stories – complaints about teachers, friends, workload, coaches being unfair or partial – have two sides. Don’t automatically assume your child’s version is the correct one. Listen empathetically and if the situation calls for it, investigate. Don’t settle all of your child’s problems for him or her.” Susan Newman, social psychologist and author of The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It – and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing.
Dare to Discuss the Difficult: “Kids are exposed to a lot at a very young age – technology, smoking, swearing, drugs, pornography, talking about sex. Be aware that it will happen earlier than it happened to you. Have frank discussions with kids about things they may be seeing or hearing at school. Let them know what’s acceptable and what’s not, instead of forcing them to fi gure it out on their own.” Craig Cudmore
Ask About Their Day: “Ask about school and their friends and more – every day. It’s good for them to know that you still think these things are important.” Carolyn Godfrey
There are many things Astrid Van Den Broek wishes someone told her before her children started school. That’s what inspired this Toronto-based freelance writer to put this story together.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, September 2015.