Things can go wrong when children go back to school. Some children may be afraid of their new peers or may be tempted to violate the rules in order to fit in with more popular kids. Others give in to fears and avoid activities that could be a blessing to them. Balance the doses of essential “parenting vitamins” and avoid these problems.
Parents have two primary roles. The first is the Caring Function, or the “Vitamin C” role as the late Dr. Mel Silberman from Temple University called it. Bonding between a parent and child develops through a parent’s nurturing behavior. As a child grows older, listening and being sensitive to a child’s feelings are central to this Caring Function of a parent or caregiver.
The second, but equally important role, can be called the Executive Function, or the “Vitamin E” of parenting. Establish the rules for home and school, as well as consequences for violating those rules. Include boundaries and disciplinary procedures employed by authority figures, teachers, and others in the school system. The more clear and specific you can be, the better.
Healthy parents communicate, negotiate, and agree with each other on the rules and regulations for home and school. Brainstorm options for consequences and agree on disciplinary actions. This alleviates many problems. Too often, parents polarize and conflict develops: one is too harsh and the other seems to be too soft. Misbehavior and manipulation result. This becomes a particularly delicate problem when the parents divorce and divide their parenting duties between two homes. Children often develop great skill at “splitting” parents from each other. (“Ask mom, ‘cause she’ll let us go.” “Don’t tell dad, ‘cause he’ll make us do our homework first.”)
This same polarization can occur between parents and the school system. Ideally, parents communicate with the authorities at the school and understand their policies and rules and the typical disciplinary procedures employed by the school.
Children can also split parents from the school authorities. (“My teacher is unfair and mean. Can you talk to the teacher and get her to give me a better grade?”) A parent’s investment in getting to know key people in the child’s school improves trust (most teachers and school personnel really do care) so when a child needs discipline, parents can be unified with the school. This cooperation between home and school is in the child’s best interest. Well-intentioned parents, at times, undermine the authority of the teacher, all to the detriment of a child who learns how to manipulate.
Use caution to balance all issues. Listen attentively to your child. One aspect of “Vitamin C”, may lead to understanding that someone in the school may be breaking the rules and the protective action of a parent is needed. Bullying by peers or an adult’s abuse of their power over your child, all require a more active response.
Both “Vitamin C” and “Vitamin E” are essential for a balanced approach to helping our youth grow up to be responsible adults. Both are necessary while we strive to fulfill the ideal guideline to “love one another”, which includes loving our children. Provide balanced doses of these parenting “vitamins,” and your children will have a successful school year.