Last summer, I bought a bookshelf from Ikea. It looked simple in the picture, and the floor model was sturdy and seemingly uncomplicated. I loaded it in the car, brought it home, and started the assembly process. I am not a very "handy" person, and I am probably more comfortable in the kitchen than in the garage, but I can follow directions. So, after about a half an hour, my bookshelf was complete. I might have had to take it apart at one point when I realized that a main piece was on backwards. And, I might have had a few pieces leftover when I was done. Still, it looked pretty much like the picture, and it seemed sturdy enough to hold books. Had I not had directions to follow, I am sure that I would not have been as successful in my endeavor.
Unfortunately, not everything in life comes with directions. Take raising kids for instance. Wouldn't it be nice if upon leaving the hospital they asked you to sign a birth certificate, checked your car seat for proper installation, and handed you an up-to-date set of directions for raising a child - complete with new sections on social media and definitions for "flossing" and "TL;DR"? Unfortunately, that is not how it works. You do have to sign a birth certificate, and they do check your car seat (luckily there are directions for that), but there are no instructions on how to raise kids.
One of my first parent meetings each school year is with kindergarten parents. For several years, we followed a simple agenda. We went around the room and had everyone introduce themselves, I gave a brief overview of what to expect for the year, and we opened it up to questions. Unfortunately, there were never many questions. This is not because kindergarten parents today have it all figured out. Instead, it is because many of them simply do not know what they do not know. Because of this, the format of these meetings has changed, and we now play a little game that I call, "What Would You Do?" In this game, I ask parents to read actual scenarios that kindergarten parents have encountered and have them select from a list of actions that they might take. Here is an example of one of the scenarios:
Your child reports to you that another child called them a "butthead" on the playground.
- Call the other child's parents to let them know what their child said to yours, and arrange a time to meet in the morning so an apology can take place.
- Ask your child how it made them feel. Ask them what they did about it. Ask them what tools they might use in the future if it happens again.
- Email the teacher immediately and ask for a meeting.
This is a very normal situation, and none of the possible actions are wrong. Yet, each of them has the potential to take this situation in a dramatically different direction. As we talk about this, and other scenarios, we go down the path of different actions and talk about the positive and negative outcomes that might arise. This gives us the opportunity to highlight the importance of a strong home-school partnership, and helps to demystify some of the behaviors that kindergarten parents might experience.
From these conversations, a few key takeaways have emerged:
- Never be embarrassed to ask for advice from other parents or your school. Whatever you are experiencing with your child, someone else has gone through it.
- Assume best intent. Parents and teachers (and kids) are all doing the best they can.
- Take the time to respond and not react. Before you send that heated email, take a breath and sleep on it. You may feel different in the morning.
- Let go of things. We call this "using your garbage can tool." Kids do and say dumb things. The same kid that called your child a butthead will likely be the one that they want to invite for a sleepover. Kids are great at letting go of things. Follow their lead.
I won't go so far as to call this a set of "directions," but following these guidelines can go a long way in avoiding some major parenting pitfalls. And, with a little luck, the final product - though it might look a little different than what you expected - is sure to be pretty awesome!