During the past month, I found myself speaking to more than 6,500 parents in various locations across the U.S. I never have a more engaged audience than when I’m interacting with moms and dads.
That month, I found the most popular question was—how do I support my child in school?
Behind that question are looming thoughts like:
- My daughter is so stressed out—should I just do her homework for her?
- My son is so busy with sports and lessons—should I excuse him from doing his chores?
- My kids are both falling behind—should I talk to their teacher about easing up a bit?
Today’s parental expectations are different than they were in the past. All generations of parents care about their kids’ future, but today, we feel we need to ensure they reach their goals, even if it means:
- Negotiating their grade with a teacher, like we’re an agent.
- Advising their coach on our kid’s playing time, like we’re a personal trainer.
- Confronting those in conflict with our kid, like we’re a referee.
- Intruding on an activity to control the outcomes, like we’re a court judge.
Two Healthy Parent Habits with Your Child’s Education
Healthy parents practice two great habits that will equip them to see the world accurately:
1. Address the adults involved as allies, not adversaries.
If I got in trouble at school as a student, once my parents heard about it, I’d get in trouble a second time. My parents sided with the teacher or coach, helping me see the wisdom behind their discipline. Today, when kids get in trouble, parents often march down to the school as if the teacher’s done wrong. Parents side with a child assuming he or she has a better understanding than the fellow adult has of the situation.
Parents and educators must work together, collaborating with fellow adults as allies, instead of confronting them as adversaries. Kids must see adults working together to hold them accountable, even if it’s not fun in the moment. Here’s why: kids will begin playing adults off of each other, just like when they learn dad and mom are not on the same page at home. Kids can create a divide between parents, so they can “win” in the moment. Unfortunately, kids lose in the long run as they fail to mature into adulthood. All they’ve learned is how to manipulate others, instead of navigating hardship.
It actually provides a greater sense of security for your kids to see their parents working with their teachers, coaches or employers to develop them into capable future adults. When children see this, they won’t appreciate it in the moment, but they’ll become a problem-solver over time and a more secure person knowing adults believed in them.
2. Talk to your kids as if you expect them to be the problem-solvers, not the adults.
Sometimes, parents will talk to their kids as if they are victims, instead of agents of their own choices. Frequently, we cultivate a victim mindset in our kids when they see us only empathize with them and never challenge them to make wise choices about the difficult situation they may find themselves in. We become rescuers, not guides.
For instance, if your kids tell you how hard their science project is, assuming their teacher must hate them, and your response is to get angry and tell them you’ll come to their rescue—those kids learn some unhealthy habits:
- If I play the victim card, someone will bail me out.
- I should avoid failure and hardship at all costs.
- I don’t have to face the consequences of my poor choices.
The saddest part of this reality is—kids never learn to become resourceful problem-solvers. And this is the very meta-competency they must learn as they enter their careers.
As our two kids were growing up, my wife, Pam, and I always tried to believe the best about their teachers and coaches, and we told our children so. As we got involved in their extra-curricular activities (baseball, theatre arts, soccer, etc.), we told them not to expect special perks and, in fact, they may have to work a little harder, so no one assumed they got a special role because we were involved. We spoke to our kids as capable problem-solvers, especially when they had a tough day. We empathized with them—and even cried with them—but we never took agency away from them, even at a young age. If we felt a teacher or coach did something questionable, we would talk to that adult alone, not in our kids’ presence. Our kids knew we believed in them and supported them but would not do the work for them. Their success would be something they earned, not something someone gave them. Our mantra was:
- Love is a gift, always free from us to you.
- Success is achieved, something you earn.
What might happen if we, the adults, actually worked together to raise this new generation?