Children’s need for parental involvement in their lives doesn’t diminish with age.
Yet, as children get older and shoulder more responsibility on their own – or their work gets harder for us to figure out – we may tend to back off from our role as coach and instead become a rather silent cheerleader. As they show signs of independence, we can start to believe they don’t need us as much.
But school counselors say it’s as important for us to nurture our children when they are older as when they were in elementary school.
“Parents can start to feel the message they’re getting from school and sports as children get older is, ‘We’ve got this now,'” said Maura Friddle, guidance counselor at Amsterdam High School. “It’s important for parents to know it’s OK to take a step back, but it’s still important to be involved and engaged with a child.”
Asking children about homework shows them we’re interested in what they’re doing, said Friddle. “Looking at homework doesn’t mean you have to correct it. You’re telling a child, ‘Education is important and I want to know what you’re working on.”
Rebecca Pauley, school counselor at Mohonasen High School in Schenectady, agreed.
“The importance of a good education is fostered in the home,” said Pauley. “If a child senses parents don’t care, why is the child going to care?”
Pauley suggested parents use available tools to stay in touch with a child’s progress.
“If a child wants a little more independence, good; let them spread their wings,” she said. But check the parent portal, if your child’s district has one, so you can get involved if you notice a problem.
Pauley suggested parents reach out to a school counselor if the child is struggling to find learning strategies that work.
“When a child knows the school and parent are in partnership to support that child’s effort to be successful, that goes a long way,” said Pauley. “It trickles down to the student, and they’re more empowered because they have this dual support system.”
And, while you may not be able to help your child solve a math problem, there’s someone else who can. Friddle likened it to seeking a mechanic’s help with a car problem. When children see us reach out for help, they understand they don’t have to conquer every challenge on their own.
“We can’t be experts in everything,” said Friddle. “It’s knowing there are people around us who can help.”
Pauley agreed. “Teachers would jump for joy to get kids staying after school for extra help,” she said.
In addition to better understanding class material, a student can build a relationship with a teacher when he asks for help.
“If you struggle with material, the teacher will see you are reaching out and doing what you have to do to be successful,” said Pauley. “If a student is there multiple times a week, that’s who I want writing a recommendation for my child. They see a child who is determined and makes it happen, who keeps going until they are successful.”
TALK ABOUT GOALS
Students benefit when adults model and talk about short- and long-term goal setting.
Take baby steps, suggested Pauley. “It doesn’t have to be ‘I want to be a lawyer.’ It could be, ‘I’m going to stay after school with a teacher at least once a week.'”
Setting short, achievable goals helps students consider longer-term goals. “Maybe it’s, ‘I want an advanced Regents diploma,’ and then we can talk about an actual plan to get there,” Pauley said.
It’s healthy to talk about career dreams as well, with a focus on finding a passion. A student should look at what they like to do rather that what they think they’re supposed to do. “Ask, ‘What are you thinking of today? What do you like to do? What are you good at?” she said. “Find something you love and turn that into a career.”
If we consider that learning can happen anywhere, there are many ways to be involved in our children’s education.
“Find common ground to have a discussion about life issues in a non-threatening way,” said Pauley.
Friddle suggested having a mini book club as a family.
“A lot of young adult literature is great for parents to start conversations with kids. It’s easier to talk about fiction books,” she said.”
Friddle said while there is natural separation as teens get older, they still need to know the adults in their lives are there for them.
“It’s important for them to pull away so they learn independence and how to advocate for themselves, but they still need that support behind them. We’re still teaching and holding their hand in a different way,” Friddle said. “Just keep trying. They may say, ‘no, no, no,’ but when they need you, they really need you. And they know you didn’t give up on them, that you’re still there.”
Pauley said it’s important to encourage a child to dream. “Don’t close the door on anything. Don’t extinguish the fire.”
Copyright ©2015 by Parent Today and Capital Region BOCES; Used with permission