By Ann Dunnewold, Ph.D., author of Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box: Cut Yourself Some Slack (and Still Raise Great Kids) in the Age of Extreme Parenting
1. Remember that your child’s teacher is not the enemy.
Work to develop a collaborative, not antagonistic relationship, by communicating your child’s needs in a straightforward way, offering practical help in the classroom when possible, and above all, recognizing and respecting the teacher’s expertise. You are on the same team, working for your child’s success. Join with and listen to the teacher—you might learn something new about your child.
2. Teach personal responsibility.
Announce to your kids that they are now responsible for remembering their own lunches, backpacks, homework. Give one reminder—no more—and let them learn this most valuable life lesson. Don’t bale them out, running to school with forgotten items. You won’t be there to remind them about college commitments—lay the groundwork for lifelong personal responsibility with this new school year.
3. Say no and mean it.
Be firm about how much is too much for your kids. Your child may come to you on a daily basis with requests for an iPhone, laptop, credit card, etc., but it is up to you to set clear boundaries and not to over-indulge. If they really “need” that digital camera or designer handbag, talk with them about various ways they can earn money — either around the house or getting a job — toward buying it themselves.
4. Parenting is not a competition.
The fact that your neighbor’s daughter is in competitive dance classes and your daughter is not means nothing. Connect with other parents by commiserating over your stresses—we all have them—not by tallying your child’s achievements. Less stress for everyone will result.
5. Understand that your child is the one in school—not you.
Guide your child in setting up a system for organizing their back pack or effectively completing his/her homework. If parents want children to learn, kids need to complete schoolwork on their own.
6. Celebrate the accomplishments of your child—realistically.
If your child gets a B, be proud. Praise what concepts your child mastered, rather than making the letter grade the pinnacle of success. Don’t jump immediately into why the grade was not an A, devaluing the work that was done and implying that only perfect matters.
7. Keep a rational perspective.
Is every moment or social activity critical to your child’s happy life? Will failure to make the select squad ruin your child’s prospects of success as an adult? Will missing the fifth birthday party in one weekend — so you can have some family time or some sleep — turn your child into a pariah? The answer is no, of course, and sometimes parents can calm themselves down by engaging in a simple, sensible dialogue in their heads.
8. Define your family values.
If caring about others is the ideal you most want to instill, allot time for volunteer work as part of you regularly scheduled activities. If faith is the key factor in your family life, ensure that your weekly itinerary allows time for religious practice or community work.
9. Encourage your child to be himself.
Accept his/her unique mix of strengths and flaws. Not all children excel at math or soccer. Help your child find and foster her unique talents and define success on her terms—not by what you wish you had done or what her siblings or friends do.
10. Stay level-headed about school—and teach your child to do the same.
Yes, good grades are important. But one or two Cs will not wreck his chances at college. While education is important, so is a balanced life, with time to ride bikes and hang upside down from a tree in the park.
Ann Dunnewold, Ph.D., is a practicing psychologist in Dallas, TX, specializing in the issues of women and mothers today. She is a nationally recognized expert on postpartum depression and anxiety. Dr. Dunnewold is the author of The Postpartum Survival Guide and the recently released book, Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box: Cut Yourself Some Slack (and Still Raise Great Kids) in the Age of Extreme Parenting (Health Communications, Inc.).