Back to School-A Time for Parents to Step Back
The school year. The excitement of new notebooks and new pens and colored pencils. The fun of seeing friends after the summer and settling back into a routine. The thrill for parents of micromanaging the details of their child’s homework, sports schedules, play practices, and club meetings. What, you don’t love micromanaging all of this? Where is your helicopter? If the anticipation of the school year keeps you awake at night, we have some ideas for you. What if this year you transition your student to owning his or her homework, grades, and activities? “Seriously?” you ask. “Let Mark remember to bring his practice uniform on soccer days and bring it home to be washed? He might scare off all the ladies with his three day sweat-infused socks. Count on Michaela to pack her backpack the night before so she is on time to homeroom? Without reminding her? Are you kidding?” No. Not kidding. Depending on the age of your son or daughter, it is very likely that you are clinging to some responsibilities that would be better transitioned over to them.
Let’s think about what it looks like to step back so your child steps forward. What is one school responsibility you have been holding onto that your son or daughter could totally manage? Consider these and other possibilities:
- Writing down and keeping up with their homework
- Keeping up with school supplies
- Packing their backpack and homework independently
- Making their lunch and remembering it (they will not starve if they forget)
- Taking ownership of their grades and assignments
- Remembering to set up carpool for days they have sports or extra-curricular activities
- Remembering to bring whatever they need for sports or after-school programs.
Remember, it is not about knowing they can successfully manage their school responsibilities today. It’s about giving them the opportunities to grow into successfully managing them. There will probably be some mistakes and maybe (if needed) some coaching along the way—but that’s part of learning how to step forward on their own with confidence.
As a foster parent, psychotherapist, and expert in family and teen therapy, Amy Morin—author of 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do—has witnessed first-hand what works: “When children have the skills they need to deal with challenges in their everyday lives, they can flourish socially, emotionally, behaviorally, and academically. With appropriate support, encouragement, and guidance from adults, kids grow stronger and become better.”
Talk with your kids about what they think they can manage themselves. Ask them how they will transition to own this skill. What do they want from you and what can you count on them for? Do they (or you) need a check-off list or chart? If so, ask them to make it. Do they need a reminder? What would a good reminder be (sticky note on the door or mirror, alarm on their phone or automated reminder on the phone, note on the fridge)? Have them set it up and take ownership of it.
Try your best not to nag, remind, helicopter, over-check, or do any of these things while pretending not to. This is letting them learn. Giving them the chance to succeed or fail or fall somewhere in between. It is ok. The stakes are small. This does not go on your permanent record (and even if it does, it is better to have a ding on a school record than to start one with the police). If you set a reasonable timeframe for them to manage this skill, you can have a check-in conversation at the end. If they make a mistake in the middle, refrain from correcting. It’s fine to ask if they need any help, but unless they say “yes,” back away and continue to let them work toward owning this. If they blow it, give them a Mulligan. This is the crux of leading your child on the path toward responsible, unentitled adulthood. They have to try hard things and feel the full brunt of their decisions and actions. They have to feel the feeling of achievement when they succeed without any parental involvement. This is the “high” we want them to feel. This is what we want them to seek more of. You will be amazed when they get going on this and start to take on more and more responsibility without your help in the process.
The rewards for this are monumental. They feel proud of their maturity. You feel proud of their accomplishment. This builds trust and mutual respect for your ongoing relationship. They feel empowered to move on to bigger and better things. You can enjoy the break from feeling responsible for everything. The goal becomes finding new things to move from your plate to theirs. The helicopter has landed.