3 Simple Ways to Help Your Child Thrive in School by Doing Less

An open letter to parents from a concerned school teacher

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Dear Parents:

I see you. I see how hard you work, how busy you are and how much you worry for the future of your beautiful children. Know that what you want for your child, I want too. Our mutual goal is for your child to be successful in school and to develop into a well-adjusted, productive member of society. With this end in mind, I respectfully ask you this – please stop doing so much for your child.
I am not here to pass judgment and throw out labels such as “Helicopter” or “Lawnmower Parenting”. I will call it as I see it – loving behavior of a parent who wants the best for their child. You see, I’m a parent too. I get it. You want the best for your child. You believe your job is to make sure their childhood is a cherished time with minimal hardships. But doing too much for your children can be detrimental. It can hinder their independence. It can rob them of the confidence that comes solving their own problems.
There is a fine balance between doing enough for your children, and doing too much. Here are three simple ways you can “do less” and help your child develop the skills they need to thrive in school and life. 

Let Your Child Experience Natural Consequences

Actions have consequences. As with many things, children learn this best through experience. If a child breaks rules at school that result in consequences (loss of recess, detention, not being allowed on a field trip), most parents know well enough to back the teacher up. Few teachers enjoy giving consequences (trust me, it involves paperwork) and do so as a last resort, not as a whim. Allowing your child to take responsibility and learn about consequences to their actions is an important lesson. But what about natural consequences? When your child leaves their lunch, homework, instrument or sports equipment at home do you make an extra trip to school to bring it to them? If your child breaks a school dress code rule and the school calls home do you bring them a change of clothes or shoes? These actions fall into the “doing too much” category. Powerful lessons can be learned through natural consequences. If your child has to sit on the bench during a sports game, or find appropriate clothes to wear in the “Lost and Found” bin, they will be less likely to make the same mistake twice.

Help Your Child Foster Persistence in Problem Solving

No one likes to see their child struggle. Homework time can cause stress in the house. Many students have a busy after school schedule and parents are rushing to get dinner on the table and younger siblings bathed and in bed. It can be tempting to give your child the answers, design the project or do their homework for them. Doing this may give you a short term win, but at what cost? Teachers shouldn’t be assigning homework that your child is incapable of doing independently. While encouraging children who have trouble staying on task and holding them accountable is an important parental role, being overly involved in their homework denies them of the opportunity to learn the value in working on a problem. Perseverance, resilience, and grit cannot be learned from a book or ordered off the internet. Your child needs to learn them through experience. They need to learn the value of “I don’t have this yet, but I’ll keep working on it.” 
I cringe when I see homework that has obviously been completed by a parent. Worse yet, a note asking that their child is excused from last night’s homework because they sport practice until late. That parent just robbed their child of an opportunity to learn about time management and setting appropriate priorities.

Help Your Child Negotiate Positive Social Relations

Parents should advocate for their children. If a child is a victim of bullying and has not been successful in resolving the issue through their teacher then parents must get involved to ensure their child’s physical and emotional safety. Bullying is a terrible thing. It involves a repeated and deliberate misuse of power to intimidate, shame or hurt someone. That’s a very different situation from two children being mean to each other and not getting along. Learning to negotiate social situations on the yard and work with students who aren’t their friends are important lessons for students to learn. I mean, do you like all the people you have to collaborate with at work? If you ask a teacher for a meeting to “resolve” minor social disagreements, or make a request that your child move seats to not engage with a child they don’t like, you are denying your child the opportunity to practice and learn these skills. They will also not gain self-confidence they can handle their own social situations.

Parents, thank you for all you do. I love spending my day with your children! I know we both want the best for them. If you skipped to the end of this letter, let me summarize and lovingly tell you the things you can stop doing for your children. Not doing these things will help them be more successful in the long run. Stop running their forgotten items to school. Stop doing their homework. Please drop the excuse notes. Finally, stop fighting their minor battles for them.
Remember, it’s not our job to fix all your child’s problems, but to teach them the skills and confidence to fix them by themselves.
Together, we can do this!

Warm regards,

Your Child’s Teacher

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