Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Getting Your Early School Aged Kids Ready to Go Back to School: An Insider’s Look at What Teachers Really Want

Stores are a’buzzing this time of year with back-to-school shoppers and nervous anticipation of the school year that is about to begin.  Kids are wondering if their BFF will be in their class and agonizing over important shopping decisions: backpack or messenger bag?   Parents are guiltily calculating how many summer days they remembered to drill their kids on addition facts and double-checking to make sure they purchased all of the items on the school’s official Supply Checklist.

When it comes to what classroom teachers really want in terms of preparing students for a successful year, however, stylish school bags and math memorization don’t even make the top ten list.  Rather, Teachers’ Wish Lists include specific skills and teachable traits that make for a peaceful classroom and productive learning environment, such as:

The delicate art of autonomy begins with a toddler’s ability to say “no” and is generally developed during the pre-school age years.  The degree to which school-aged children have mastered the ability to control their emotions and impulses largely determines their success in a classroom.  Parents help their children develop self-control by consistently enforcing age-appropriate limits.

As your child has grown, he has learned to do more and more things on his own—using the bathroom, getting dressed, and eating independently were some of his earliest accomplishments.  Just as your pre-schooler developed positive self-esteem by his mastery of self-care basics, he continues to grow emotionally as you teach him to tie his own shoes in the morning, pack his own lunch, and make sure that he’s put everything he needs for school into his bag before getting on the bus.

 It’s hard for parents to realize that their child forgot their math folder at home and not do anything about it.  The almost unbearable urge is to rush the folder to school and make sure it’s in your child’s hands before his teacher ever realizes your student’s mistake.  However, the best way to guarantee that your child will forget his folder—or his lunch, or his gym shoes, or whatever he needs to be responsibly prepared—in the future, is to save him from the consequences of his mistake.   

When you allow your child to experience the results of his actions (and inactions) you give him the opportunity to learn from the situation.  What’s more, you send him the powerful message that you believe in him and know that he is capable of handling whatever comes his way.   Independence and responsibility go hand in hand; teachers need kids to develop both in order to be successful in the classroom.  Your child needs both to be able to succeed in life!

Most schools have ongoing “No Bullying” campaigns that emphasize creative conflict resolution and hold kids accountable for harsh teasing and physical aggression.  Teaching your kids the importance of good, old-fashioned kindness goes a long way toward helping him succeed amongst his peers and in the school community.  

Kindness has everything to do with fundamentals like sharing and giving genuine compliments.  It also has to do with more advanced skills that can be practiced at home, like offering to walk an ailing classmate to the Nurse’s office, showing compassion for a student who is struggling to learn, and empathizing with a friend who is feeling sad.  The skill of kindness also extends to refraining from mean-spirited tattling (boy, will the Teacher appreciate this!) and to making sure to include a classmate who is feeling excluded.

When your child knows his ABC’s and 123’s and has a backpack full of the right school supplies, it does help his teacher move efficiently through a daily lesson plan.  More importantly, however, when you help your child develop the skills of self-control, independence, responsibility, and kindness, you give his teacher the gift of a peaceful classroom and you fortify your child with skills that will help him succeed everywhere!

Signe Whitson is a licensed therapist, mother of two, and author of How to Be angry: An Assertive Anger Expression Group Guide for Kids and Teens.  For workshop inquiries, please visit, "Like" Signe on Facebook, or Follow her on Twitter @SigneWhitson.  

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