Back to School Wisdom – Setting School Year Goals with Your Child

As summer winds down, and schools across the country gear up for a new school year, it is the perfect time to sit down with your child to discuss goals for the new school year.

I can still remember a conversation my dad had with me about second grade. I was scared stiff about entering the new school year, and with tears streaming down my face, I insisted I did not want to go, as my first grade teacher was the best ever, and I would never have such an enjoyable year as I did in first grade. My dad calmly wiped my tears away, and told me in the most gentle of voices all of the exciting things I would learn in the second grade. He quelled my fears, and I was able to start that first day happily, and without fear. As usual, my dad was right. Although first grade is still one of my favorite years, second grade was not unpleasant at all, and I came to love that teacher almost as much as my first grade teacher!

It does not matter the age of your child, whether they are entering kindergarten, or in my case, as my oldest embarks on grad school. A sit down talk is in order and is tailored to the age and grade. This is where our hard earned parenting wisdom pays off. We have been there, done that.

As busy parents, it is always easiest just to lay out our expectations and goals for our children, but by including them in this all important discussion, you are more likely to be met with a better attitude, and even success that meets or exceeds your expectations!

Make this time together, comfortable, casual,and non-combative, as a moment to consider where they are in their school career, and where they are going, and what changes they would like to make. This is remarkably similar to a yearly review at work, only you cannot fire your child! Light refreshments and non- hurried conditions are best.

Two of the greatest mistakes we make as parents is that we:

1) Under-estimate our child’s capabilities.

2) Over-estimate our child’s capabilities.

Seems straightforward enough, but you would be surprised how often this is overlooked when setting goals for the new school year.

Johnny approaches his dad with a gleeful “I am going to get all A’s this year!” Smiling ear to ear Johnny knows this statement will satisfy his dad, even though Johnny is not so sure he can even make this happen.

Dad clearly states in a rather confused tone “Son, I expect all A’s from you every year.” Dad leaves the statement at that and returns to whatever it was he was doing.

A more effective strategy may be for dad to express the same expectation, but then to continue on with “Now let us put our heads together to see what you can do son, so that you can successfully accomplish that goal, and what I can do to help you.”

By creating a quiet and relaxing atmosphere for this discussion, you are given an opportunity for the child to communicate his fears or beliefs as to why he may feel the bar is set too high, or why he feels he can do better than ever before. This is not the same public or private school that you and I may have experienced as children, and we actually need to consider being open to what our kids are telling us. As parents, we have to be able to grasp the child’s natural fear of failure, versus a true problem in just not feeling as if they can keep up with the pressures of school.

Lets say, for example, that your child is in honor courses, just slightly outside of his reach for an “A”. If he is doing well and succeeding in elementary and middle school, this is the time to stay the course and to let that be. They are stretching just slightly out of their reach, and if they are coming home with B’s that is considered a success! It would be an opportune time to discuss what they can do, to reach just a bit higher, especially if high school is just around the corner.

Be realistic with your child and who he or she is when it comes to academics. Blanket statements of just expecting them to do well is not terribly useful if they are truly struggling to get by.

The following suggestions are for grade by grade basic goals you can discuss with your child.

1. Grades K-1: Listening, paying attention, not speaking out without permission from the teacher. Being kind on the play ground to fellow students, keeping hands to yourself, and being an excellent school citizen.

2. Grades 2-3: All of the above, plus personal responsibility to get work turned in neatly and on time. Paying attention in class, and letting you know immediately if a problem in the classroom or on the playground arises that you need to be involved in.

3. Grades 4-5: All of the above, plus discuss classroom honesty and cheating. Bullying and appropriate expectations of behavior. Open and honest discussion will serve your child best.

4. Grades 6-8: All of the above all the way back to Kindergarten, plus engaging your child in discussion regarding the future and preparing for the rigors of high school. If you started general discussions in the younger years, by now communication should be relatively easy, and more detailed discussions should be had, regarding all aspects of the school culture. This is including, sex, drugs, social media, and bullying. Please don’t allow religious beliefs (such as we don’t believe in these things, so it will not happen in our house) to get in the way of these discussions. If you don’t have these talks with your children, someone else will. It will take place, even in a private school. You will need to start college discussions at this point to make sure your son or daughter is on the right track for their future goals in high school and beyond.

5. Grades: 9-12. Again, go all the way back to kindergarten rules, and all of the above, and keep the lines of communication OPEN! Know your child, and their disposition. You are your child’s best source for information, and contrary to popular belief your child cares what you have to say and does listen! Set limitations together, and listen to what your child has to say!

For college and beyond, the core value is set, and yearly goal setting will be a much easier task. Be there for your child, and they might surprise you in what they are able to accomplish with your support.

Happy Parenting!

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