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Growing Concerns (08/27/2003)
By Dr. Martha Erickson
A question-and-answer column with Dr. Martha Farrell Erickson of the University of Minnesota

Question: What can I do to make school a good experience for my child?

Answer: As school resumes, it's time for all of us parents to remember how important we are to our children's success and happiness in school. Whatever your child's experience last year and whatever your past involvement in your child's learning--the new school year offers the possibility of a fresh start, for parents and children. So here are five basic steps for making sure your child's school experience is the best it can be:

Be sure your child is physically ready for learning each day. This means having enough sleep on school nights and beginning the morning with a healthful breakfast. It also means living in a home environment in which family members treat each other with kindness and respect. High conflict at home creates stress for all members and can seriously undermine a child's readiness to learn.

Show genuine interest in your child's school experience every day.

Ask your child to tell you about the school day. What topics did they discuss, what stories did they read, what fun things did they do at lunch or recess? Ask to see school work, encourage your child to read aloud for you or have your child teach you something new from science or math class. When you show that school is interesting to you, it will seem more interesting to your child.

Work with your child to establish a daily homework routine. Make sure your child has a quiet, comfortable place to work. Figure out with your child a schedule that works, knowing that some students do best if they do their homework immediately after school, while others benefit from some play time before they focus on their assignments. It often helps to set aside family reading time when everyone does quiet reading or homework, without the TV or radio to distract. This can be followed by a family snack and a game or favorite TV show.

Communicate regularly with your child's teacher. Don't wait until there's a problem, but let the teacher know that you are invested in your child's learning. Exchange notes or call the teacher occasionally to find out how your child is doing and what, if anything, the teacher needs from you to support and encourage your child's success at school. And when you hear good reports from the teacher, tell your child you are proud.

Visit the school. Attend conferences, open houses, student performances and other special events. If possible, volunteer to chaperone a field trip, read to students in your child's classroom, or offer to teach a class about your career or hobby. Whether your child is 6 or 16, showing up at school tells them how much you value their education. And it sends a strong message to your child's teachers that you are their partner in providing the education your child deserves.

Question: My wife keeps telling me that I give in to everything our kids want and that I'm never willing to say no to them. She's probably right, but I find myself just not able to make them unhappy by denying them what they ask for, whether it's material things or privileges. Any words of wisdom for a dad who's too much of a softie?

Answer: Oh yes, kids can break our hearts, can't they? And sometimes it's just so much easier to give in than to hold fast to what we know deep down is right. However, keeping an eye on the long-term goal of parenting sometimes helps to strengthen our resolve. We need to ask ourselves, "What kind of a person do I want my children to become?" Always giving in to children's pleading sends them a clear message that pleading is the way to succeed. And that's not the message most of us want for our kids.

So, next time your kids are pushing for something you're not sure is best for them, try these three steps and see how they work for you:

"¢Take a deep breath and say you need to think about it for a while. Then get all the information you need in order to weigh the pros and cons, making a decision based on careful thought. Sometimes kids create a sense of urgency that makes us think we have to give an answer right on the spot. But making a thoughtful decision sets a good example for our children and allows us to discern more clearly when it's time to say "no" and when it's just fine to say "yes."

"¢Listen to your children's wishes and feelings and acknowledge them. Even when you decide that it's not best to fulfill their hearts' desires, a simple "I can see that you really want this" at least lets them know you take their feelings seriously.

"¢When your answer is "no," state it gently but firmly, and give a clear, straightforward reason your children can understand. Then stick to your decision, no matter how much pleading follows. If it's appropriate, you might suggest an alternative--something else you would allow your children to do. Or, if it's a material thing they want and you aren't willing to pop for the cost, engage your children in figuring out how they might earn it over time. Learning to delay gratification and pursue a goal are important parts of growing up!

No doubt some of your decisions won't win you a popularity contest in the short run, but the rewards for you and your kids will be great in the long run. Although they may not tell you this until they are 30, your children will come to see you have their best interest at heart. And you will be helping them develop a deeper sense of appreciation for the things and privileges that are theirs. 

 

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