Repost from September 13, 2014
This year it was important to me to make time to volunteer in my son’s first grade class. It’s only been a few weeks and already I’ve been reminded of these basic principles:
None of these ideas are earth shattering or complicated. They don’t have to be googled or researched or studied to master. But yet sometimes in our quest to “do it right” we overlook some of the first things we were ever taught. If it’s so easy that even a 6 year old could do it, why do we insist on making it so difficult?
On Friday I participated in a training as part of our financial wellness program at work. The class stated parents would need to save upwards of $250,000 to fully cover their child’s college expenses. A little shocking, right? I mean we all know college is “expensive” but I didn’t think the price would be higher than the price of our first house. And now here is the kicker, the training went on to say the average parent saves a little over $19,000. When you look at the numbers side by side, most parents barely have enough to scratch the surface for the expenses they are about to incur.
A couple months ago, we went to high school orientation held at the school for current 8th graders who would be freshman in the fall. One of the breakout sessions was on AP Classes. In the session, the counselor described the depth and breadth of AP classes available at this school and the success rate of their students. At the end of the session, I leaned over to the mom sitting next to me and wondered aloud why they went into such detail about this for incoming 8th graders. I instantly felt sad for the students whose parents were basing their high school decision solely on the number of AP classes the child could take so that they would get a jump on their college classes. In the context of the rising cost of college, I suppose it makes sense.
Yesterday, I read a post from a mom on Facebook who was looking for help with her 9th grade son. She had found materials in his room for vaping and when she confronted him about it, he said he was so stressed out about school he was using it to try to relax. It’s not enough to go to school and get “good” grades, the grades have to be exceptional. And then not only do you have to have the grades, but you must demonstrate leadership skills and participate in extracurricular activities and community service hours.
We know the price is rising, but are we paying attention to see that the cost to our child’s well-being is also rising? The pressure these kids feel is immense.
You may be thinking none of this applies to you because your kids are still young, but this is exactly the time you can start laying the groundwork. What is your attitude around homework? Is it fun or are you already in a mini-power struggle to get it done? What is your approach to grades? Do you look online every time a new grade is posted? When you talk about grades, are you discussing the effort or the result?
Our kids spend the only thing they have, time, in school. Are we showing them what they are getting in return? Are we explaining to them the benefit of learning and staying curious? Sure, they are not going to love every subject, but can we help them to see the life skills they are gaining in return? They may accuse us of putting a parental spin on “something they’ll never use in real life”, but I’m a firm believer that everything is here to teach us something. Learning doesn’t end when the school bell rings. We can’t control the monetary price tag, but we can help with the cost and we can certainly impact the life-long benefit.
Are you looking to continue your learning as a parent? I've re-opened registration for my latest online course, Communicating through Connection and if you register before April 30th, you will qualify for the discounted price. Follow the link to find out more details.
“School” is a highly debatable topic. There is no shortage of topics to pick from when looking for areas of improvement or controversy. In recent weeks, the districts throughout Arizona have been promoting Red for Ed (#redfored). Teachers and parents have been wearing red shirts to promote the inequality in pay and insurance coverage of public school teachers. Many of the schools have staged walk-ins, where the teachers meet, all wearing red, before school and walk into the school as a unified “team”, if you will. Teachers in Oklahoma have walked out, in their effort to draw attention to and show solidarity for increased pay and funding.
Funding has been a nationwide, political hot button for a long time. In an effort to fairly distribute government funds, there has been a growing importance in student’s performance on annual standardized testing. If the students don’t do well, it could impact the school’s status and therefore the funds they receive. I am no expert in any of these details, but I do see the impact it has had on my children in the classroom. They spend class time practicing questions similar to those they’ll face on the test in an attempt to maximize their results.
Speaking of class time, that presents it’s own set of debate topics. You can talk about the structure of the class (do they sit in rows or groups at a table). You can talk about the curriculum, which then adds topics such as Common Core and homework to the debate. You can talk about recess, PE, art and music, all of which seem to be decreasing in time spent with every passing year.
And finally, you have what may be the biggest hot button of them all, at least from a parent’s perspective, Grades. I was curious, so I googled the question and found the 100-point grading scale was first implemented in the late 1800’s at the college level. Is there any tool you will use today that was invented in 1877 and hasn’t been adjusted for life in 2018? Knowing this, it actually should be no surprise we place such an emphasis on grades and success, as it is literally embedded in our DNA. For generations we have linked good grades with future success and now as a result, parents and kids are more stressed out than ever before.
I have grossly over simplified some very complicated and serious issues because to go into detail would require months of research and reams of paper. With so many issues requiring our attention, it may seem overwhelming to ask “Where do we start”? I think that question is actually the easiest one of all to answer. You start with your child. How do they learn best? How do you feed their curiosity so that they are encouraged to learn? What learning environment best fits their personality and strengths? If you are currently in a less than ideal situation, how can you stand up for and advocate for your child?
At the end of the day, I’m just a mom, participating in the current public-school system, cutting out box tops, donating tissues and supplies, trying to do my part to support the teachers that support my kids. I’m also a mom who wants my kids to one day leave school feeling prepared and inspired for the lives they get to create for themselves, after all isn’t that the whole point of going to school in the first place?
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When I was in second grade, I was the new kid in school. I went to a smaller school, so it wasn’t completely overwhelming, but I didn’t know anyone. Luckily, most of the kids in my class were nice and I was able to navigate my way to finding groups to play with during recess and lunch. I’m not sure how it started exactly, but at some point, my path started to cross with a fourth grader. Our lunch periods could have overlapped slightly, or we could have been walking by each other in line, but however it happened, she found me and started teasing me. It was typical kids’ stuff, most likely making fun of my clothes or something similar and just being the new kid in general. It was never physical, all I remember is she was mean to me and I did my best to stay away from her. I don’t think I ever told my parents or a teacher, even though her actions probably qualified as low-level bullying. Eventually she lost interest in me and found someone new to pick on, but as a result I avoided her for years. In high school, we ended up in a large group of girls and I asked her, “Why were you so mean to me?” She said “I don’t know, but I’m sorry. I was really mean to you have no idea why.” We had a good laugh about it and talked about how cruel kids could be for no reason.
Bullying is a hot topic these days. From the moment our kids are put in a classroom environment, they are taught the difference between being a good friend and being a bully. Ask any young child around the age of 4 or 5 and they can tell you exactly what a bully is. I think it’s great we’ve prepared our children to stand up for themselves and discern what behavior is acceptable and not acceptable. I have seen it swing a little bit to the extreme though, where every negative word said is considered bullying. Let’s face it, kids say mean, dumb things. Many times, they say these things just to get a reaction or they are testing the boundaries of social interaction. Our kids are taught that bullies say mean things and it’s put parents in a tough spot. Kids come home describing an event at school where “Jack was being a bully” but when the parent hears the full story, they think, that’s just kids being kids. As a parent you have to be careful. You can’t contradict the definition of bullying because if it escalates, it must be treated as a serious situation. But at the same time, we want to teach our kids to have thicker skin and move on from insensitive comments.
There is one situation where I was able to use the definition of a bully to help me in a situation with my son. For the last couple years, I’ve been trying to teach my kids to listen to the little voice in their head. This is a very difficult concept to teach a child because it is so abstract, but that hasn’t stopped me from trying. One night in particular, my son was having a difficult time and had resigned himself to the fact he “couldn’t do it”. No matter what we tried, his answer back to me was “I can’t”. At that moment I had an idea. I said to him, “You know your brain is being a bully right now.” That stopped him in his tracks and made him think. I knew I was onto something. We began to talk about how his brain was making him believe he couldn’t do something, which made him want to give up and not even try. I told him his brain was being very mean, just like a bully. By using the word bully, my son was able to put a concrete definition to the belief he had in his head. Not only did it allow him to connect the two, but he knew bullying was not something he should accept, he had to act against it. This analogy has given us a new way to talk about how we listen to the voice in our heads. It’s also given us a new way to identify when the bully brain might be taking over and what we can do to stop it.
Bullying is a huge topic and not one that can be covered all in one blog post. We can however start with the bully closest to us, the one that lives in our head. By first taking the power away from our own bully brain, we also take away some of the power from the other bullies who cross our path.
Stay tuned, I'm re-opening my class "Communication through Connection" this month. Keep an eye out for all the details!
I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.