A reader asks: “We had our children a little later than most of our friends, so while ours are still in elementary school, we see some of the challenges our friends have with their middle school children. Is there something we should be doing now to avoid the problems later?”
First, let me congratulate you on your insightful observations. And, yes, there are many things you can do while your children are young. While nothing can stop the hormonal roller coaster your children – and therefore you – will be riding, there are some things that will make the ride a little less scary and maybe even a little more fun!
It’s all about having expectations and developing habits. I want high expectations and good habits for my kids. From the time they are little, children should know that success in school is an expectation. That means attending school, attending school on time, completing assignments on time, completing projects on time, and always doing the very best that they can do. Part of their expectations is that you as parents will help them do all these things: you’ll get them to school on time and you’ll help them or get them the help they need to succeed. It means that you will place a high priority on education. It means you will maintain good communication with the teachers, including attending conferences. And it means you will help them get enough sleep and nutritious meals and exercise.
Developing habits can start any time. As an infant, your baby is on a schedule. While it may not be your schedule, it is a schedule nonetheless, and most of us plan around that schedule. As they grow, children will need help establishing a schedule: when do they eat, sleep, bathe, play. Academic habits are no different. You can start with your pre-schooler by capitalizing on their eagerness to learn. Start using language such as “study time,” “reading time,” and even “homework.” Young learners are sponges and they crave knowledge. There’s no reason when they are learning something knew not to talk about at least some of it in terms of school. If they have an older sibling who has homework every night, the young ones actually want homework themselves. Good. Tell them to write their letters or numbers; ask them to read aloud to you; ask them to find things that begin with “B.” It probably doesn’t need to last more than a few minutes for Pre-K, but it can certainly last longer. By doing this, you are establishing the expectation that they will have homework every day and you are establishing the habit of completing homework. And it requires no work whatsoever because young learners want to do this, learn things, emulate their sister or brother.
I’ll have more specific ideas, examples, and time frames coming up. In the meantime, whether it’s establishing the habit of making your bed every day or doing homework, it’s probably never too soon.