We all want the best for our children, right? We want them to be healthy. We want them to be happy. We want them to treat others with respect. We want them to make good friends. We want them to make good choices. We want them to do well in school. We want them to find a career they love. And yes, we want them to succeed and show the world what they’ve got. But, how do we, as parents, help our children to be all that they can be? Here are a handful of ways that you can support your child while encouraging him to take the next needed steps toward his dream when he is ready to fly the nest.
You’ve heard it many times: reading to your child from the very start is crucial. While she may not have entered Pre-K, yet, making sure you are reading to her before she is an independent reader may result in lifelong learning benefits that will not only show in her ability to become a strong reader or writer, but positively impact other subject test scores across the board. According to the National Education Association, children who are read to at home enjoy a substantial advantage over children who are not. Reading opens the doors to all sorts of possibilities, and it’s also a great way to spend time with your child and help her to wind down at the end of a busy day!
Hard Work Pays Off
Maybe you’ve heard your own parent or a grandparent say it: Hard work pays off. Even if that hard work takes days, weeks, months, or even years, not giving up is crucial to seeing anything worth doing through to the end. Be it academics, sports, or learning a new skill like tying a pair of shoes for the very first time, it’s important to stay the course and push back against feelings of wanting to give up when the going gets tough. And speaking of grandparents, studies have shown that having a grandparent in a child’s life brings along with it great psychological benefits, offering a small child an insider’s view into the life of someone who has been there and done that. Encourage your child to spend one-on-one time with his grandparents or other veteran relatives to ask questions about goals they may have had, which will lead to plenty of hard work stories and the ups and downs that come along with not giving up (and or the consequences of doing so) along the way.
In case you haven’t heard, there’s a fierce debate about the everyone’s a winner generation, where everybody walks away with a trophy, win or lose (aka participation trophy). On the one hand, organizers want to encourage kids to do their best and enjoy the activity (and maybe intrigue well-meaning parents to pay that rather hefty registration fee, knowing there is a sweet reward waiting at the end no matter how a child places). The other camp says no way to everyone’s a winner and feels that competition is a practical lesson best learned young to avoid children from growing up only to discover in the real world that not everybody gets the best job, house, car. You fill in the blank. Regardless of the trophy, participating is a healthy way of introducing your child to the reality of rules and healthy competition, be it a friendly game of chess at the kitchen table to signing him up for a youth soccer league. While it may be impossible to avoid the politics that is childhood sports, pushing him to try something new is never a bad thing. Learning sportsmanship is a good thing. And keeping your kid off the couch and away from electronics is a bonus.
Ask for Help
It’s the rare individual who succeeds all by herself. So often, we get into our own heads, believing we’ll look stupid or incompetent if we raise our hand in the classroom or approach our boss to ask for support. Oftentimes, children would rather suffer in silence and risk a bad test score than reach out for help in front of their peers—this child may then come home with extra homework and poor grades. If you notice this with your child, rather than assume she’s not working hard enough or that she’s goofing around, first make sure she feels competent in what she’s doing in the classroom and work to build a stronger relationship with her teacher. Speak to the teacher to make sure she is raising her hand and participating in class. Request extra help if needed in a way that doesn’t make her feel as if she’s standing out from the rest of her class. Check out online options for sites that offer games and exercises that may appeal to her to encourage her to practice at home. Remind her that asking for help is a sign of strength rather than a sign of weakness. Rinse and repeat, there’s no such thing as a stupid question until she believes you. Building up her confidence may result in her becoming a more independent student who understands that asking questions is not a weakness but a strength.
Share Your Story
Most of us parents have had our share of difficulties at both the academic and workforce levels at some point in our lives. Small children idolize mom and dad, believing them to be superheroes. While you may not want to remove your cape and shatter that image too early on (who doesn’t love that feeling of knowing your child believes you can leap tall buildings in a single bound while making dinner, folding laundry, finishing work, and rocking your youngest to sleep after a long day?), by not providing a glimpse of the real you who can empathize and share helpful stories of when you were a child with your own child, you’re passing up on a wonderful opportunity to bond with and build up your child based on your own life experiences.
Encourage, Don’t Discourage
Everybody has days where they feel unstoppable, where everything comes together, where we’ve got it all together. Everybody also has days where we have trouble rolling out of bed when nothing seems to go right, where we question our own abilities and marvel at the fact that others believe in us. Be your child’s cheerleader. Be it a good day or bad, remind him that both days are bound to happen. And more than once. That it’s okay to have “one of those days.” That even if Plan A isn’t working out, that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Plan B or even C maybe even better.
Do Some Research
Your family and friends may think you’re crazy to start too early, but there’s no harm in researching schools before your child begins. Check out local Pre-Ks, school districts, and organizations that offer extracurricular activities for children who need extra help to children who excel and are looking for additional challenges. It’s certainly not uncommon for families to house hunt in neighborhoods that fall within good school districts. So long as you remember she’s only six and has a long path to go, shopping around for the best may someday be to her advantage. The article, How to Research Good Public Schools in Your Area offers some great advice and links to get started.
Something that’s become more and more important in our society is finding that elusive work/life balance. This is not always an easy task, but it is important to push for. Remember that your child also needs a work/life balance. Studying till all hours of the night may seem admirable, but many an A student has burned out, fallen ill, and/or lost his or her passion due to functioning on constant overdrive for too long. Remind him that he, too, needs to take a break. Shut off the computer. Call a friend. Get out and exercise. Sleep! And for younger kids, keep an eye out if homework is taking up the majority of his evenings. Play is just as important for young kids to help burn off pent-up steam that may otherwise show itself in unhealthy ways both at school and at home in the long run. While you don’t want to discourage your little overachiever, you want to encourage an achiever who understands the importance of stopping to smell the roses.
Your best friend’s kid was reading by nine months old. Your cousin’s daughter is starring in commercials at age two. Your brother’s namesake hits honor roll without even having to open up a book. Your neighbor’s son got called down to the principal and is acting out at home. Your boss’s kid keeps her up at night suffering from test anxiety. No two kids are alike, nor are our life circumstances. Comparing one child to another is pointless and unfair. Rather than play that game, stay focused on your own child and your own situation. At the end of the day, just because Jimmy is insanely bright does not mean he will one day go onto build a successful empire or fall in love and live happily ever after. And that child who grew up struggling with little to no support at home may just find the strength and determination to someday go on to follow her dreams and see them come to fruition after years of hard work and sacrifice. We have become a society of comparisons when we should be a society of encouragements. There is no guarantee that a child who studies hard and gets good grades will have it any easier than a child who studies hard and struggles—life tends to get in the way for all of us. What we can do is do our best to arm our children with the love and support all kids crave and need from the time they’re born to the time they’re having children of their own.
Despite the fact that it sometimes feels like institutions tend and trend in pushing our children to fall in line, learn the same way, perform at a certain level on assessments, and sign up for various extracurricular activities for fear of not keeping up with the Joneses. At the end of the day, the thing that makes us so unique in life is that we all come from different backgrounds, are faced with different sets of obstacles, and respond, learn, and function at different levels. Not to mention some of us just weren’t meant to understand math. Ever. By paying attention to your child as a whole person rather than just what he is good at, by encouraging him to excel not just in the classroom at school, but in the classroom of life where other important attributes such as empathy, generosity, kindness, gratitude, and humility will play just as important role in his life well past school age, and her chances of reaching her potential will be far greater.