From Dr. Jane's Notebook

Back to school: Our children expect us to take charge

Being a parent can make you feel very grown up. Sometimes it’s easy to be a grown-up; sometimes it is very difficult. Being a cheerleader for your child when they are doing well is easy; paying the mortgage on time can be difficult. Throwing a birthday party in spite of small disasters is easy; finding ways to motivate your child in school can be difficult. In general, when life is good it’s easy to be a grown-up. To maximize good times, it is helpful to provide a sturdy family structure. Though they argue, throw tantrums, and practice being independent, kids want their parents to be mature and reliable. This is tough but not impossible. Here are a few more thoughts on the matter.

·        Put Family dinners back on the table. The start of a new school year is challenging for kids and parents alike. While parents may worry about clothes, teachers, school supplies and logistics, children worry about the social and emotional aspects of each school day. Will I like my new teachers? Will my teachers like me? Will I have friends? Will there be bullies? And will I succeed? To address their concerns, kids and parents need time and regular opportunities to sit together, talk, and listen to each other. Family dinners (even if they don’t occur every night) are important opportunities for kids to ask questions, share their feelings, and get feedback from their parents.  Contrary to popular belief, children hear what we say, listen to their parents, and they constantly learn from us. Having a regular forum for discussion is an important family ritual and resource that your kids will remember forever.

·        The lost art of communication. Communication requires, above all, the ability to listen. Unfortunately, there is a cost to living in our fast-paced, multi-tasking society. The cost is felt by our kids when we lose our patience and our ability to focus on one thing at a time. Symptoms of our impatience can be seen when people interrupt each other, offer answers before they’ve heard the full question, and when we’re rude to those who speak slower than us, including our children. Some people approach conversations like a game of Jeopardy. While fast talking helps people feel a little smarter, it does little to promote relationships.

·        Discuss financial goals and strategies. It’s not healthy to make children feel anxious about money but it is healthy to teach kids about the value of a dollar. As parents, we work hard for our money and do our best to provide for our families but sometimes, we forget to teach our kids how we make our financial decisions. When kids hear us say “no” to one purchase and “yes” to another without understanding the rhyme or reason for our decisions, they get confused. When they hear us complain about having no money and then see us buying “toys” on credit, financial decisions begin to look more like playing favorites. Ideally, we have sound reasoning which guides our financial decisions. This is what our kids need to know.

·        Install a Family Calendar in your kitchen. Families function best when family members feel synchronized as a group and know what to expect. Kids can’t read their parents’ minds. Clear information promotes family synchronicity, self-worth and cooperation. To help with this effort, I recommend that you post a  large paper calendar (20” x 30”) on which everyone can post their schedules. Each member of the family needs a different colored marking pen. When family members can see each other’s plans, you have a better chance of avoiding transportation surprises, chaos, and un-needed stress.  An added benefit to family calendars is that they provide hints for conversations. Family calendars are especially helpful to traveling parents who are out of town but want to stay abreast of family events. Likewise, when kids can anticipate their parents’ out-of-town work schedules, this goes a long way toward preventing hurt feelings and resentments that Mom or Dad missed an event.

Raising children in a healthy environment requires some structure, some flexibility, and quite a bit of backbone. Like most things we do, being a good parent takes practice. Establishing healthy family habits and rituals helps children develop their identity, their personal boundaries, and a greater appreciation for family relationships. In this age of unlimited technological wonders, parents must remember that the best thing we can give our children is still our time. All the technology in the world cannot replace the love and guidance we provide as parents.

©Copyright, 2010, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.            

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