Starting the School Year Right: Open Lines of Communication
The new school year offers a chance for a fresh start for students and parents alike. This year, instead of dreading potential challenges, look forward to new beginnings by fostering good communication skills both in and outside the home. Open and honest communication is the foundation of any good relationship. Start the school year by creating new opportunities or trying new ways to foster a positive relationship with your child.
It’s important for parents to clearly express expectations early in the year and ensure children understand the importance and value of parental expectations. Discuss homework time and other daily routines with your children as early as possible. This makes it clear to your children exactly what is expected and helps you enforce the guidelines set forth. If you see your children slipping, remind them of the conversation you had earlier in the year.
Make Time to Talk Make it a point to find the time to talk and to listen. Parents should consider that children might be more receptive during certain times of the day. Take note of when your children appear to be the most open to talking with you. This could be right after school, during snack time, after homework is finished or even when the family is clearing the dinner table. Each child is different.
Create Simple Family Traditions Eating dinner together as a family without the distraction of the TV presents an opportunity for informal and open conversations every day. These moments give everyone a chance to share while family bonds grow through a simple tradition. These times do not need to be formal, but they should be consistent so it becomes a routine for the family to chat together.
Learn to Listen Listening effectively is not as easy as it sounds. If you find yourself reacting to what your child has said, train yourself to stop and let your child complete his or her thought. It’s natural to want to problem-solve or offer advice, but it’s important to start by really listening to your child. Make sure to be free of distractions, such as your phone and computer, and focus your attention on what your children have to say. It can be frustrating to a child to try to talk to a parent who isn’t paying attention to what he or she is trying to share. There is so much information that can be missed if you are talking with your child and attempting to read an e-mail at the same time. The body language of children can sometimes speak volumes. Watch your child as he or she answers your questions or is speaking to you. If your child is looking down at the ground and avoiding eye contact, this can signal something is amiss.
Don’t Force It As children get older and self-awareness grows, their desire to share every detail of the day may decrease. If your child resists your attempts at conversation, ask, “When might be a better time to talk?” When your child is ready to talk, communication is much more successful. Older children may feel you are being nosy at times. Sometimes it is better to let children come to you after they have had time to process and think about the topic themselves. At the end of any conversation, it is important to make sure you have understood your child. Repeat to him or her what you heard and what you understand before ending the chat to clear up any confusion or tension. For example, you might say something like, “Let me make sure I understand that you felt singled out during class today, and that hurt your feelings. Is that right?” It may be surprising to you how comforting it is to children to know that they have heard and understood.
Branch Out In addition to speaking regularly with educators, school staff and Kumon Instructors to get updates on your child’s progress, it is important to meet and gather input from other parents of children at the school. Functions like open houses and parent-teacher conferences are great places for parents to network. When your child enters high school, make sure to visit the guidance counselor together or separately. Make a list of the people you meet at these events and exchange information. For example, if you are interested in carpooling this year, ask around to find out if there are parents in your area participating in one. If there is a parent with expertise in science, math or literature, consider coordinating small study sessions so the expert parent can facilitate a study group.
Participate Volunteering at your child’s school is one of the fastest paths to a solid relationship with your child’s educators. Many schools offer programs where responsible parents can volunteer in the classroom or at school during the week. Volunteering in this way will give you a better understanding of what your child experiences during the school day. Having insight like this will help any school-related conversation, in addition to giving you a better idea of how your child’s educators communicate.
As students get older, there are fewer opportunities to volunteer at school. But there are always ways of staying connected. Parents are often needed to help with driving for smaller events, or to participate in annual school clean-ups. You can learn more by joining your school’s parent-teacher association (PTA) to keep abreast of changes in school policy that will directly impact your child. Participating in a PTA also allows you to share what is important to you with the association and other members of the community. You might not be able to attend every meeting, so set expectations in the beginning regarding what you can do.
Understand that communication happens in many ways, with different styles and approaches. By creating an environment where you foster open and regular communication, you will find out just how much easier the school year can be. Remember, your family will go through phases, and it is likely you might struggle at times to create an open dialogue with your child; but don’t give up – be persistent. Your child is developing and growing, and it’s important that you continue to foster a respectful atmosphere where open communication is nurtured in your home.