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Parenting Hacks: 12 Essential Tips for Parents of School-Age Children

Parenting Hacks: 12 Essential Tips for Parents of School-Age Children

Babies.

Toddlers.

Teenagers.

All of these age groups seem to have entire websites dedicated to the challenges of parenting.

But what about the group that’s missing?

The school age children.

Ah, you might say that is the easy age. but there is really no such thing as an “easy” stage of parenting. It’s just a new set of challenges, and rearing school age children has its own set of challenges. In fact, if you face the trials and tribulations well now, you may actually reduce the ones to come in the teen years, and parents can always use a break when they can get one.

1. Read Aloud Every Day

One of the absolute best things you can do for your child and his success in school is to read out loud together every day (or almost every day). There are a few great things about this.

The first is that reading together at bedtime helps transition a busy day full of activities and screen time into a quiet, peaceful time. The second is that by having your child read aloud to you, you can gauge his abilities, build up reading stamina, and enjoy an activity together.

When you take a turn reading to your child, you can help them with their comprehension when you stop and recap together or ask him to remind you what you read the day before. Finally, reading aloud together gives you a chance to introduce your child to new books and you can use that material as a jumping off point for the more in depth discussions that start happening at this age which aren’t always comfortable for parents or kids.

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2. Find Quiet Time Together

An added benefit of the reading together, especially at bedtime, is that you have a built-in quiet time together during the day with your child. The school years are busy years and we fall into routines where we talk to our kids and move from one place to another without every stopping to really have discussions about the things that are on our kids’ minds.

It’s not to say that you need to have a therapy time every afternoon or play Twenty Questions before bed, but taking a few minutes after reading stories to “check in” with your kid in the evening is an excellent way to be sure your child has a chance to talk and you take a turn to listen.

Other options for that quiet time may be a walk together in the evening or even driving from one event to another. If you’re taking your child home after a sporting or school event, for example, turn off the radio and take the longer route to get home. Sitting in the car is an excellent time to ask some questions and have a quality conversation with your child.

3. Model Reading and Writing

If you’re counting on the school to cover all the bases for your child in his reading and writing instruction, your child will be missing a critical part of instruction. Your child’s teacher is likely doing an excellent job teaching your child how to write and how to read.

Your job as a parent is twofold. First, you should be reinforcing what your child is doing at school. This lets your child show off his new abilities and gives you a chance to check his progress and assess his abilities. Second, your job as a parent is to show your child just how important that reading and writing stuff is.

How? By reading and writing yourself. Your child should see you reading. A lot. Your child should watch you write. This shows your child that reading and writing really is important – not just something he’s forced to do at school.

If you read for pleasure in front of your child, he’ll get the message loud and clear that reading is a good thing. Likewise you can show him the importance of writing as you send emails, write lists, write in a travel journal or update your summer diary together.

This is an excellent way to use those phones and tablets as well. There is no rule that writing has to be done with pen and paper, and reading doesn’t require paperbacks. Show your child how to read and write on his device, but keep an eye on him with software like OurPact parental control to be sure he’s following through on the expectations.

4. Explain Behaviors

    Your child has many pathways to learning. He can listen. He can write. He can read. He can touch. He can taste. He can experience. How many of those pathways are you using when you’re trying to get your child to learn and do something?

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    For example, if you are asking your child to put his dishes in the dishwasher, you can tell him to do it, but that may not be enough. Your child has heard you. But then show him how to load the dishwasher properly. Explain to him where the water comes from and why the bowls and plates need to face a certain way. Explain why the knives are pointed down and let him see you put your dishes in before he puts his own away.

    Granted he will probably need reminding well into his teens to take care of chores like loading the dishwasher, but if you think about explaining things and engaging as many learning pathways as possible with everything you consider important, your child will be much more likely to understand and follow your lead. Telling him once just isn’t enough for any lesson to really sink in, especially something he doesn’t understand.

    5. Set Realistic Limits

    Behavior. Punishments. This is the stickiest wicket of parenting because every child needs discipline and every child craves limits. Children generally want to please adults, and the best way to do this is by behaving appropriately. This means your child needs limits and rules, preferably before he crosses a line.

    That being said, if you’re going to make a rule in your house, be sure it is a realistic one and one you can enforce. For example, telling a child that he can’t stay up past 8pm on a weeknight is fine. It’s fine, that is, unless that same child has baseball practice until 8pm three nights a week. How is he going to bed by 8 if he’s not even home? By giving your child a rule he can’t follow, you’ve set the both of you up for failure and frustrating. Think through the rules and limits ahead of time to prevent this. This also gives you a chance to prioritize and choose your battles.

    6. Offer Praise, Limit Criticism

    Nobody likes to be criticized. Sometimes it can’t be helped in the learning process, but as often as you can focus on the things you can praise as a way to correct behaviors rather than criticizing those things you don’t like.

    What does this look like? It might be something as simple as praising your child when you see him holding a dirty shirt. Sure, he might have just taken it off and was about to drop it on the floor, but rather than shouting at him to “put that shirt in the hamper right now!” praise him instead for not dropping it on the floor. “I’m so glad you’re not going to drop that on the floor – thank you for putting in the hamper!”

    7. Always Be Consistent

    Just like the limits above, do your absolute best to be consistent at all times in all things. Does this sound daunting? Sure. But it’s actually easier than you might think. What wears us out as parents is making decisions all day long.

    Mom! Can I have this? Can I do that? Can I stay up later?

    Instead of making a decision about every little thing during the day, plan ahead and stick to the plan. Make bedtime the same time every night. Make the evening routines the same every night before bed. Put all electronics on the charger in the kitchen.

    These are not rules, per say, simply routines and consistencies in place that make your life a bit easier and give your family some structure they can understand as they go through the day.

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    8. Explain Expectations Ahead of Time

      This is a big trick that you’ll see elementary teachers use in the classroom. Assume that your children don’t know how to behave in a new situation. You’ll have to explain exactly what behaviors are appropriate and which are not.

      This is far better than doing what we accidentally do all of the time and fuss at our kids for not behaving the way we want them to… when we’ve never told them what to expect!

      Think about going on a family adventure to a carnival. What are the expectations you have for the carnival? Your child will need to stay with you. Or maybe hold your hand. Your child will need to wear comfortable shoes and carry his own bag – you’re not going to carry it for him. Your child will have a set number of tickets for fun and that’s all he has, so spend them wisely.

      Now think of the expectations you’d have if you went to a museum or to the theater. It’s a whole new adventure with a brand new set of expectations. Children are not mind readers, obviously, and they aren’t always very good at picking up on subtle clues. Just because everyone else is whispering doesn’t mean they will unless you tell them calmly (preferably ahead of time) that whispering is what everyone does in an art museum.

      9. Prepare Children for Transitions

      Another great teaching trick you can use at home is preparing your child for a transition. Think about a day in elementary school. Your child goes from his desk to the rug for circle time to stations to the library to the gym to lunch and back again. At school this process seems to go so smoothly for an experienced teacher.

      Yet when your child is at home and you tell him it’s time to go from one place to the other he throws a fit. Or refuses. Or begs and pleads. Or even runs the other direction. What those savvy elementary school teachers know that many parents do not is that you not only need to tell your child your expectations (how else would they know to walk in those nice quiet lines at school?) but also the teacher prepares the students for transition ahead of time.

      Children do not change gears instantly. They are usually pretty intent on doing what they are doing, especially if it is fun. When you tell them it’s time to go right now, it’s like ripping off a Band-Aid and your child reacts dramatically.

      Instead, give your child a head’s up along with some information about what’s coming next. This allows for processing time and eases the transition.

      This might sound like a notice to your child that he “only has five more minutes to play and then we need to head to the grocery store before heading home”. You might even give him a visual cue like, “When the clock says 3:45 we’re going to head to the store. That gives you five more minutes to play here before we leave”.

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      10. Judge The Action, Not The Child

      A practice we should all have is to never judge your child. Judge his actions. Telling your child he’s “a bad kid” or that he’s “a terrible reader” is going to destroy his confidence and give him some negative voices in his mind to overcome as he tries to grow up and be successful.

      Even if you are beyond frustrated with your child, don’t tell him he’s “bad.” Tell him instead that you are extremely disappointed in his “bad behavior.” You can fuss at him about the choices he is making because he can always make better choices. Fussing at him because he’s “an idiot” or “a rotten kid” isn’t going to help anything. It’s going to make your problems much worse down the road.

      11. Focus on Sleep Patterns

      If you could only fix one thing in your child’s life, fix his sleeping behaviors. Children in elementary school need up to twelve hours of sleep every night. At an absolute minimum your school age child should be getting nine or ten hours of sleep every night.

      This means putting your child to bed early enough that he can get all of the sleep he needs before it’s time to get up and prepare for school in the morning. This may mean cutting some of his evening activities or starting homework earlier in the day.

      It’s important to realize that your child needs about ten hours of sleep every night. That doesn’t mean he should be in bed for ten hours. He should be asleep for that long. That will probably mean starting showers even earlier and doing any reading earlier in the evening. Electronics should leave the bedroom early enough that your child can wind down and sleep. Screens actually make it harder to fall into a good sleep, so watching television or staring a phone can make sleeping harder, not easier. Getting enough sleep every night can fix a host of issues for your child. A lack of sleep has been linked to poor grades, poor attention spans, behavior issues and even poor eating habits.

      If you make a good night’s sleep a priority every night, you can set up all other routines and expectations that connect to bedtime easily as well.

      12. Plan for Future Concerns

        Think about what can do the most damage to your child when he’s a teen. Drugs, alcohol, poor driving, sleep deprivation, surly attitudes and more all haunt parents of younger children because we just don’t know what to expect, and there is no magical way to see into the future, but you can plan now for what you expect to happen in the future.

        For example, if your child takes his phone or tablet to bed every night to play a bit before going to sleep it may not be a big issue now. But it can be a huge issue very soon. Phones are one of the things that keep teens up during the night and interrupt that important sleep cycle. Even if it seems harsh now, consider a ban on phones from bedrooms after a certain time.

        Turn off all televisions and electronics at a set time of day. Set a curfew before your child needs one. Make reading a part of the daily routine. Start a routine now for chores and household duties. Elementary school children are a bit more malleable and certainly tend to be better natured about things than teenagers who are looking to be independent.

        Choose your battles now and fight them with an eight year old at the present time. Then, once the battle is won, you can simply continue the expectation for the next ten years under the guise of routine and “that’s how it’s always been around here!”

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        Published on September 21, 2020

        The Danger of Overscheduling Your Kids

        The Danger of Overscheduling Your Kids

        I am a parent of three children aged 8, 6, and 6. Like many parents, I struggle with knowing the right balance of activities for them. I don’t want my kids to miss out on opportunities to play sports and participate in activities that will enhance their lives and help them grow as individuals. However, I also don’t want them to become overscheduled kids, to the extent that they get worn out and stressed out.

        There is a balance in providing activities for our children and overscheduling them. The tendency for the latter is prevalent these days. Our lives — and the lives of our kids — are increasingly overscheduled and overworked. Thus, we need to understand the dangers of having overscheduled kids and how to prevent this from happening in our own families.

        What’s Wrong with Overscheduling Your Kids?

        1. Overscheduling Can Burn Out Our Kids

        When our kids are on the go and scheduled to the max from a young age, their potential to get burned out before reaching high school is quite high. The New York Times reported some research on burnout and found that burnout with kids relates to their workload, along with their parents’ propensity to experience it.[1] This means that overworked children are more likely to get burned out than others. Similarly, overscheduled parents tend to have overscheduled kids more often than not.

        Burnout

        When a person is burned out, they feel overwhelmed and exhausted by what others expect them to get done daily. Children who are involved in too many activities with little to no downtime have a high chance of experiencing burnout. When parents place too many expectations on their kids, they also have an increased potential to burn out.

        If you get the sense that your child is feeling overworked or overwhelmed by their daily activities, you need to know which ones can be cut back. If they have too many activities outside of school work, for instance, then that is one area that likely needs to be downsized.

        An overworked child will present various symptoms like moodiness, irritability, crankiness, despondency, anger, stomach aches, headaches, rebellion, etc. Cutting back their activities will help to relieve their stress and reduce the said burnout signs. If your kid has severe burnout symptoms, though, then professional help from a pediatrician or therapist for children should be sought.

        Downtime

        Downtime is key to helping relieve burnout. If children don’t have free time during the day to have any rest, they are more likely to become burned out than others. Downtime means unorganized free time to do what they enjoy or relax. Cut back your kids’ extra-curricular activities if they don’t have downtime in their schedule.

        Here are more tips on creating downtime for the children: How to Create Downtime for Kids.

        2. Overscheduling Kills Playtime and Creativity

        Kids need time to be kids. When their schedules are filled every day with activities like organized ballet, soccer, and music lessons, and they only take a break for dinner and bedtime, then they are overscheduled. They need to have free time after school to relax and play. When they don’t have that and proceed from one scheduled activity to the next, they are missing out on playtime.

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        Playtime is crucial to child development. If they cannot get enough time to play, then their ability to develop their creativity decreases. The Genius of Play explains that there are six major developmental benefits that children get from playtime:[2]

        • Creativity
        • Social skill development
        • Cognitive development
        • Physical development (i.e., balance, coordination)
        • Communication skills
        • Emotional development

        If children don’t have time to play because they are always on-the-go, then they are missing out on the developmental benefits of play.

        Children need downtime after school so that they can unwind, play, and decompress. Research from the Journal of Early Childhood Development and Care showed that kids need to play to deal with anxiety, stress, and worry.[3] Playtime provides an outlet for them to manage these emotions in a healthy manner and helps with the development of their creativity.

        Children need free time to play every day. Fifteen minutes at recess is not enough. They need time for it after school, at home, outside of the constraints of scheduled activities.

        Solution

        Ensure that your child has time to play after school. This is especially important for young children who greatly benefit from playing. Limit organized activities so that your child is not scheduled every day and can play after school. If they have an activity every hour, then it doesn’t allow for playtime.

        3. Overscheduling Causes Stress and Pressure

        When kids are overscheduled because their parents are so intent on having high-performing children, then they will feel stressed. Parental pressure upon a child to do well in academics, music, multiple sports, and religious studies is a reality for many kids. The children scheduled in all of these activities can often feel stress and pressure, especially when they are expected to succeed in all of them.

        It is hard enough for kids to be good or succeed at a single activity. For a parent to overschedule their child and expect superior performance in various activities, that is a recipe for a stressed-out child.

        Solution

        Parents should not schedule kids in multiple activities with the expectation of superior performance in all. They should also consider the child’s interests. If the child is not interested in one activity, then they are likely to feel stressed and pressured to do it.

        For example, if Suzy has been taking piano lessons for four years, and she no longer enjoys learning the instrument, then perhaps it is time to take a break. If Suzy is forced to continue with the lessons and daily practices, then she may feel pressured to continue performing simply because her mom wants her to do so. This can lead Suzy to resent her mother for forcing her to keep on doing something that she doesn’t like anymore.

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        Let your child help in selecting the activities that they get involved in. Also, put a cap on the number of activities they are doing. If they have a different activity every weekday, then they are likely overscheduled.

        Kids need downtime and time to play, too. If they need to do a new activity every day, that downtime is diminished, considering the time at home or outside of the scheduled activities is limited. This limited time is then filled with homework, mealtime, and bedtime prep. Eliminating activities several days a week will allow the child to have some time to play freely. The younger the kid is, the more time they need playtime. As they get older, they can take on more activities; however, under the age of 13, playing daily is a must for children.

        4. Healthy Eating Falls by the Wayside

        Any parent who’s busy chauffeuring multiple kids to different activities after school knows how tempting fast food can become. Fast food, however, leads to less healthy food choices. French fries and hamburgers — the staple combo in most fast-food joints — cannot help your child thrive nutritionally.

        When families are overscheduled, they tend to go for easy and quick meals. When rushed, many of us make poor food choices because we aren’t taking the time to think about a meal’s nutritional value and a balanced diet for our children.

        5. Family Mealtimes Become a Thing of the Past

        When we are taking our kids to sports and other extra-curricular activities that fall during dinnertime, the family often misses out on sharing a meal at home.

        This is true in our own home. There are certain nights of the week that we have practices, and so we either eat together early (if possible) or eat separately, depending on what our schedules allow.

        There is so much value in having family dinners. It provides an opportunity for family members to discuss their day, including their work and school activities. It is a time when technology is set aside so that everyone can truly focus on communicating with one another and catching up on what is happening in each other’s lives. When a kid’s activities are scheduled every evening, then that family time at the dining table gets lost. Dinnertime becomes a thing of the past as we overschedule kids and ourselves.

        Try learning more about family time here: How to Maximize Family Time? 13 Simple Ways You Can Try Immediately.

        Solution

        Assess our schedule during the week to ensure that there’s always time for dinner with the family. Make it a point to establish a dinnertime schedule for the evenings that you do not have prior engagements scheduled. Remember: the time that you have with your kids under your roof is fleeting. Before long, they will be grownups and start living on their own. You need not dismiss or minimize the opportunity to bond with your children over meals.

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        Having family mealtimes also allows you to make excellent food choices. This way, parents can create balanced and healthy meals and teach their children about the importance of eating good food for their bodies.

        How to Turn Things Around?

        1. Fix the Displaced Ambitions

        Parents with overscheduled kids often mean well. They want their children to succeed, so they give them every chance to make it happen. They sign them up for various lessons, sports, and activities that may help the kids find success in life.

        In other cases, the parent probably didn’t get such opportunities when they were young and felt that they missed out on many things. Hence, they provide those missed opportunities to their kids during their own childhood.

        Carla is an example of such a parent. Carla always wanted to take dance and ballet classes as a child. She heard her friends talk about dance classes and performances, and they would even bring recital photos to school, showing their beautiful, detailed costumes. Carla wanted to be in those dance classes and learn ballet and have the opportunity to perform in a beautiful costume in front of an audience. Unfortunately, her family could not afford to give her that opportunity.

        When Carla gave birth to a baby girl, she had visions of her little one growing big enough to take dance, ballet, and even tap classes someday. She was looking forward to dressing her daughter in dance costumes and watching her take lessons and eventually performing in recitals. When Carla’s daughter Anna was old enough to enroll at a dance class at four years old, she was thrilled. However, after a few months, it became clear that Anna was not enjoying these classes. She would cry before every lesson, begging Carla to let her stay home and not go to class. Her daughter had no interest in learning to dance.

        In truth, it happens to many parents. They would enroll their kid in an activity that they wanted to do as a child but never got to try. Unfortunately, a parent’s interest is not always the same as that of their kids’. The child may humor mom or dad for some time and do the activity out of compliance. But if the child does not enjoy it anymore, they will eventually make things clear to their parents.

        Parents should listen to their children. If the activity is something that they do not enjoy doing, ask the children what they think they would like to do, and then eliminate activities that they are not into. Similarly, teach them commitment by finishing a program, but don’t enroll them again in the same class if they absolutely do not want to do it.

        Let the kids try different activities at a young age. Sometimes they don’t know if they like something until they try it out.

        2. Try Clinics of Camps Before Committing

        Don’t enroll your child in three sports at the same time to see which one they like or excel at. Doing so will make your kid overscheduled. Instead, you can use the summer break or preseason camps or clinics to try a variety of activities they are interested in.

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        As an example, all three of my children said that they wanted to do lacrosse. We had already tried soccer, and it was not successful for two out of three of them. They would rather chase butterflies down the field or play tag than actually participate in their games. Therefore, before committing to lacrosse and spending a great deal of money on their gear, I signed them up for a sample clinic. It was a one-day program that intended to expose children to the sport and see if they would perhaps enjoy playing it. I was surprised to find that the three kids enjoyed lacrosse, so we signed up for the season. It was nice to be able to see them try out the sport in a clinic before committing to an entire season.

        Most towns and cities have parks and recreation department. This is often a good place to check for clinics and camps for various activities. Our local department even offers art and dance classes. Most of them meet between two and four times total, so the children can get some exposure to the activity before signing them up at a private facility for a more long-term commitment.

        3. Take an Inventory of Your Weekly Activities

        Often, we do an activity without reflecting on how much we are already committed to doing each week. Before we commit to any more activities, we must be willing to look at everything that each family member does. Every child’s commitment is another responsibility for the parent as well. Parents must take children to and from each practice, so you need to consider the drive time for any activity.

        For instance, if each of my three kids signed up for three different activities each week, I would be running myself ragged. Three activities for three kids means taking them to nine activities during the week. That doesn’t include the games that will likely be scheduled on the weekends. Three activities for every child, therefore, is too much for our family.

        If some practices overlap on the schedule, then you need two parents or responsible adults to transport the children to different locations. Before you sign them up for multiple activities, you need to factor downtime, stress levels, and your ability to take them to each activity in the equation.

        Consider the following before your kids can commit to various activities:

        • What is the time commitment for the child each week? Do they have enough energy and stamina for the activities? Do they get enough downtime daily to prevent burnout?
        • Is practice time required outside of their scheduled team practices and games?
        • How long is the travel time for you as a parent, along with wait time during practices? Do you have time allowances for these activities in your own schedule?
        • Does the activity time conflict with other activities on the schedule? Will it eliminate family dinners on a regular basis?
        • Does the child really want to do the activity?
        • What is the motivation for signing up for the activity?
        • Is this activity or commitment going to cause a great deal of stress on the child or other family members?

        Check out these time-management tips for parents: 10 Time Management Tips Every Busy Parent Needs to Know.

        Get The Kids Active and Involved!

        Despite everything, it does not mean that you shouldn’t sign your child up for different activities like sports, music, dance, karate, etc. They are all great activities that can help children develop a variety of valuable life skills. The goal is to enroll them in things that they genuinely enjoy and avoid overscheduling kids by not letting them sign up for too many activities at a time.

        More Tips for Scheduling Kids’ Activities

        Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

        Reference

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