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Supporting Independence While Staying Informed in Your Child's School Life
Tips from Teachers
Insights and Ideas from Smart Love teachers and tutors on how to help your children have a successful school year!
Being involved in your child's schooling is a key element to their success in school, but understanding how to be supportive without adding stress or pressure, is equally important. Because parents want to be participate in their child's life they may feel a need to pepper their child with questions in efforts to try and connect, but while well intentioned, this kind of interaction can cause children to retreat instead of open up. Prioritizing a pressure-free relationship with your child will encourage them to be more open and comfortable turning to you when they need help.
School-aged children need a lot of parental support as they learn how to manage school, social relationships, homework, and more. During elementary school a reliable and consistent routine not only provides comfort amidst the changing dynamics of school, but it also provides children a model for how to manage their day when they come home. Regularly checking in with your child (after they've had some time to relax after school) lets them know you are available to talk about whatever is on their mind. Open ended questions are the best way to get children to share fully about their day, for example, "What was your day like?" or "I wonder how math class was today?" If you get a one word answer like "Fine", parents can communicate, "I hear you may not feel like talking, but I'm available if you decide you want to later."
As students mature their desire to be more independent may increase, which can make it challenging for parents to know how best to support their child with school related topics. Although preteens may be learning how to manage schoolwork on their own, parents can still be involved and check in regularly about their child's school life. Providing consistent opportunities to be with your child where they can open up when they want to, like taking the dog for a walk, playing a card game, commuting to soccer or violin practice, etc. gives children the space to connect with you. During these moments, parents can applaud their child's growing autonomy while also letting them know that you are available if they ever need support. It could sound something like, "I see you working hard on your school work, which is great. Just know that I am always here if you need help."
If you learn that your middle schooler is struggling in school or not meeting their requirements, conveying that you are on "their side" and not an advisory will help them to open up to you so that you can learn what kind of help they may need. It may sound something like, "I also see it’s been hard to get your history homework in on time. Can you share what’s going on?” If they are ready to open up, allow them to vent or express themselves about the challenges they are facing. Then try to brainstorm together ways that may help them complete their homework. If your child has trouble talking to you about school, give them a little space but be clear that you will need to learn what is going on so that you can help. It may sound something like, "I know that these things are hard and you may not be ready to talk with me about it, and I understand that. Why don’t we have dessert together after dinner and you can share what’s been going on. And then you and I can think of some ideas on what to do?"
When your child reaches high school their academic and social obligations become demanding. And even though they are maturing and becoming more independent, they still need parent guidance and support to help balance it all. Parents can help their teen by being available to listen, assisting them to think through problems and evaluate options, helping them to be aware of timelines and deadlines, or guiding them to break down their workload into smaller steps. For example, the temptation to go to a party instead of studying for a test may be significant, but because parents aren't able to force their teenager to study, they can instead help their children consider how to manage their time. For example, if it's getting late in the day and your child is still playing video games with their friends online, a parent could offer, in an objective and non-punitive manner, "It's 8:00 p.m., do you need to finish homework?" If your teenager opens up, you can help them brainstorm ways to address homework or other concerns, it could sound something like, "If you go to the movie tonight, will you have other times to study?" Helping teens to break down problems or homework into smaller steps can help them when things begin to feel overwhelming, parents can say, "Would you like to talk through some of the assignments you have to complete this week? Sometimes talking about what you have to do can help you plan for how you will get everything done." Parents can also let their teen know that it's healthy to ask for and receive help even though they may feel like they should be able to do everything on their own. Parents can explain that high school is designed to be challenging and everyone needs help and support.
Throughout their academic life, children need support from their parents. However, the amount of parental involvement may differ as children get older and become more autonomous. Parents can stay involved in their child's life by being present for their child and by offering opportunities for their child to share their school experiences rather than forcing children to answer questions after school every day. Parents can let children know that they are there to help and support them and that by sharing with the parent, they can get help for the things that feel challenging. When children do open up about school, parents can recognize these efforts and let the child know it was great they could share. Ultimately, when parents prioritize a strong relationship with their child over needing to know everything that happened with their child at school, children will become more willing to share and parents will feel closer to their children .
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