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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 May 24, 2019

        How to Raise a Confident Child with Grit

        How to Raise a Confident Child with Grit

        My husband and I facilitate a couple’s marriage and parenting group. Recently, the group discussed qualities, characteristics, and traits we wanted to see our children develop as they grow up. One term that came up that all parents seemed to upon agree as a highly valued trait was that of grit. The question from our group was:

        “Can grit be taught to our children?”

        The answer is, yes. Parents can help their child develop grit.

        What is grit? Dr. Angela Duckworth is the top researcher on this subject and wrote the book Grit. She defines grit as “passion and perseverance for long term goals”. This new buzz word is popular in the adult realm, but what about our developing children? What if we could help our children develop grit as young children.

        Grit is more crucial to success than IQ. Duckworth, through her research at Harvard, found that having grit was a better predictor for an individual’s success than IQ. This means having the smartest kid in the room doesn’t ensure any level of success in their future. They can be brilliant, but if they aren’t properly intrinsically motivated, they won’t be successful.

        Grit determines long term success. If a child can’t pick themselves up and try again after a failure, then how are they going to be able to do it as adult?

        What a gift it would be to our children to engage them in a manner that helps them recognize their passions, talents, and develop a persevere to purse their goals. Below are some tips on how to raise a confident child with grit.

        1. Encouragement is Key

        When a child wants to learn how to ride a bike, do they keep going after they fall down or do they quit after the first fall?

        If they aren’t encouraged to get up and try again, and instead are coddled and told they can try again some other day, then they are being taught to play it safe.

        Safe and coddled don’t exactly go hand-in-hand with building up grit. The child needs to be encouraged to try again. This can be a parent saying “you can do it, I believe in you” and “I know that even if you fall again you will try again and eventually you will get the hang of it”.

        Encouragement to keep trying so that they can build up perseverance is very helpful in building a child’s confidence. This confidence is what will help them strike out and try again.

        If they feel that they can’t do it or shouldn’t do it, then they won’t. The mind is a powerful thing. If a child believes that they can’t be successful in doing something, then they won’t be successful. Part of building that mentality of believing in themselves comes from encouragement from their parents, care givers, and teachers.

        Cheer Them On

        How many times have you heard a story of success that someone had in life that all began because someone believed in that person?

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        A coach, a mom, a teacher can have a huge impact by believing in the child’s ability to be successful and voicing that encouragement to them. Words are powerful. Use them to build up a child, by telling them that they can do it even if they have try again and again.

        Be their support system by being their cheerleader. Cheerleaders don’t just cheer when the team is winning. They cheer words of encouragement to keep the team going.

        The same goes with children. We need to cheer for their successes, but also cheer for them to keep going and fighting the fight when life gets tough!

        You Can’t Force Them

        Keep in mind that you can’t force a child to keep trying. They have to do it themselves.

        For example, when my daughter was learning to tie her shoes, it was a real struggle. She gave up. I couldn’t make her want to try to do it again. She had to take a break from the struggle for a few months and then try again.

        She was more successful the second time around, because she had matured and her fine motor skills had improved. It would have been ridiculous for me to force her to practice tying her shoes for the three or four months in between, with tears and arguing taking place.

        No, instead we took a break. She tried again later. Forcing her to learn something that she wasn’t ready to learn would have pit us against one another. That would have been a poor parenting move.

        There are boundaries that parents can set though in some cases. For example, if your child begins an activity and wants to quit mid-season because they are terrible at the sport, you have the opportunity to keep them in the sport through the end of the season to show them that quitting is not an option.

        Although they may not win another tennis match the rest of the season or win another swimming race all year long, finishing the commitment is important. It will help with the development of grit by teaching them to persevere through the defeat. It is character building.

        If your child is great at all things all the time, they will not develop grit. They need to try things that challenge them. When they aren’t the best at something, or for that matter, the worst, it creates an opportunity for them feel real struggle. Real struggle builds real character.

        2. Get Them out of Their Comfort Zone

        My daughter wanted to try cheerleading this past fall. She has never done this activity in the past, nor is she particularly coordinated (sorry sweetie). For that matter, she couldn’t even do a cartwheel when cheer season began.

        However, we signed up because she was so excited to become a cheerleader. I signed up to coach because there was a need for more cheer coaches. We were all-in at that point.

        Once the season began, I quickly realized that cheerleading was far outside my daughter’s comfort zone. The idea of cheerleading was great in her mind. The reality of memorizing cheers and learning physical skills that were hard for her made the experience a struggle. She wanted to quit. I said to her “no, you were the one who wanted to do this, so we finish what we started.” I had to say this more than once. I don’t think anyone on the squad knew this was the case, because she kept at it.

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        She kept practicing those cheers every evening. It did not come naturally to her at first, so it was uncomfortable. She always seemed to be half a beat behind the other cheerleaders, which made it very awkward and uncomfortable for her. However, letting her know that quitting mid-season was not an option made her try harder. She wanted to learn the cheers so she wouldn’t stand out on the squad as the girl who didn’t know what she is doing.

        By the end of the season, she became a decent cheerleader. Not the best, but she was no longer half a beat behind the rest. She learned skills that were hard for her to conquer. Now that she felt success in achieving something that was uncomfortable and hard for her. She knows she has it in her to do that in other areas of life.

        That is why it’s ok for us as parents to let our kids feel the struggle and be uncomfortable. If they don’t experience it when they are young, they will as adults, but they won’t be equipped with the perseverance and inner-strength built from years of working hard through smaller struggles as they grew up.

        Allowing our children to struggle helps them build that skill of perseverance, so that they have the grit to achieve hard things in life that they really desire to accomplish.

        3. Allow Them To Fail

        Your child will fail at things in life. Let them. Do not swoop in and rescue your child from their personal failures. If they don’t fail, then they don’t have the opportunity to pick themselves up and try again.

        If I had pulled my daughter from cheerleader once I realized that it was going to be a real struggle, she wouldn’t have experienced failure and struggle. Letting her have this small failure in life taught her lessons that can’t be taught in a classroom. She learned about the power she has within herself to try harder, to practice in order to make change happen, and to push through it even when you feel like giving up because it is embarrassing.

        Failure is embarrassing. Learning to handle embarrassment is taking on a fear. When kids learn to do this at a young age, it is practice for adult life. They will experience failure as an adult. They will be better equipped to handle life’s disappointments and failures if they have learned to handle the fear of embarrassment and failure when they are young.

        Practice builds up the skill. Processing and handling fear, embarrassment, and failure are skills.

        If I had pulled my daughter from cheer and allowed her to quit, I would have taken from her the opportunity to learn how to process and handle the embarrassment and failure she was experiencing at each practice and games. She learned to keep trying and that practicing the skills would lessen the embarrassment and feelings of failure.

        Learning the value of practice and how to preserve through the fear and failure are priceless lessons. We may want to rescue our children because we want them to be successful at the things that they do, but how will they be successful in this competitive world as adults if they are provided with only opportunities in which they succeed?

        Failure is needed to learn to thrive. Success in adulthood does not come easy to children who are protected from failure because they haven’t built up the ability to persevere.

        Perseverance comes when they have learned time and time again how to take the fear of embarrassment and failure head on and practice to get better.

        4. Teach Them to Try Again

        Encourage your child to try again. Don’t let them quit on the first try.

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        Life is hard. If we quit the first time we tried at things, we would never amount to anything in life. We need to teach our children that trying again is simply part of life.

        Help them to give it a go by providing encouragement and support. Offer to practice with them, provide them with tutoring or coaching if necessary — whatever it takes to get them back on the proverbial horse and trying again.

        Break it Down

        Sometimes failure occurs because they are trying something all at one time and they haven’t mastered the smaller components.

        For example, a math student isn’t going to jump into calculus as their first high school math course. No, of course not. They build on their skills. They begin with basic math, then algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and pre-calculus to then they get to the calculus level.

        If they are thrown into the deep end by taking on calculus before the foundation of their math skills are built, they will fail.

        Help your child try again by breaking down what it is they are trying to achieve.

        Going back to my cheer example… my daughter was not the best at learning the cheers when we began. It then dawned on me that we needed to break down each cheer phrase by phrase. Once we learned the phrase and movements that went with it, we could then learn the next one. Once these were learned, we could combine the phrases, practice them together, and then try to move to learn the next phrase in the cheer. It was a tedious process, but it worked.

        Not all skills come easy for kids. Helping them learn the skill of breaking things down into manageable tasks is another way we teach them about grit. They are learning to build skills by persisting, practicing, and building upon previous experience, knowledge, and skills.

        Grit is put into practice in childhood when they learn how to break down large tasks into smaller achievable tasks in order to build toward a greater goal.

        5. Let Them Find Their Passion

        Your child may be a wonderful pianist. However, if they aren’t passionate about the skill, then they likely won’t be happy or fulfilled in becoming a concert pianist.

        It’s great to help your child discover their talents, but also let them discover what they are passionate about in life.

        True success will come because they are passionate about the activity, not because they are the best. The best usually become that way because they are passionate first. Therefore, let your child experience a variety of activities and interests so that they can discover what they love to do.

        6. Praise Their Efforts, Not the Outcome

        Praising their efforts keeps them motivated and trying. If you focus on outcome, then when they fail, they will become defeated and discouraged.

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        Focusing on the fact that they tried hard and pointing out specific ways that they did well in terms of effort will support them in trying again. When you make a habit of focusing on outcome, then failures are avoided at all costs, including taking risks.

        Risks are needed in order to become successful. Therefore, make a habit of praising their efforts, even when the outcome is not what they had hoped and tried for, because eventually, if they keep trying their efforts will result in success.

        7. Be a Model of Grit

        If you are a parent or a caregiver for a child, then you are a model to that child. Children naturally look up to the adults in their life that are closest to them, especially their parents. They will look at your ability to persevere and achieve. Your grit will show.

        Your children are watching. They may not know the term grit, but they will learn about working hard, not giving up, trying again after failure, and all that grit entails from your actions.

        How you handle life is being watched by your children. You can work on your own grit by reading Angela Duckworth’s book Grit .

        Develop a Growth Mindset

        Helping your child develop a growth mindset is also helpful to your child in their development of grit. Dr. Dweck, author of Growth Mindset and researcher at Stanford, developed a theory of fixed versus growth mindset.

        Basically, what it means is that if you have a fixed mindset, you will fear failure and easily give up. Someone with a growth mindset believes that their talents, skills, and abilities can be improved with hard work and learning. Parents and caregivers can help with the development of a growth mindset.

          Some of the ways that a growth mindset can be developed include:

          • Teaching your child how the brain works: neuron connections, right brain versus left brain.
          • Teach them to set goals.
          • Teach them to have a “can do” attitude.
          • Teach them to develop a strategy when they want to achieve something.
          • Teach them that mistakes are an opportunity to learn.
          • Teach them that failure is a normal part of life.
          • Teach them about self talk: Self Talk Determines Your Success

          There are a great deal of activities and materials online for helping your child develop a growth mindset including these resources below (each site contains at least some free content):

          The Bottom Line

          Grit is not just for adults, it is something we can help our children develop. Grit is more critical to success than IQ, so we should be helping our children develop this quality early in life.

          As a parent, being a model of grit, is one of the first ways to help our children become “gritty”.

          Featured photo credit: Gabriela Braga via unsplash.com

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