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As an elementary school teacher, I have encountered a broad spectrum of personalities over the years: the rule followers, the troublemakers, the mother hens, the class clowns, the overachievers, the underachievers. You name it, and I’ve had one in my class. Not surprisingly, meeting with the parents of any of these students explains everything about their personality and classroom disposition.
I get it—as parents, we want to provide the happiest life possible for our children. We don’t want to see them hurt, frustrated or defeated. But when our children transition into adults, the world around them will cease to be one of rainbows and butterflies, and it will be a much easier transition if parents stop doing these things for their kids:
1. Making Excuses
Kids need to learn that life is full of natural consequences. As adults, we know this. If I don’t do my job, I’ll be unemployed before long. The same applies to children. If they forget or don’t do their homework, they will receive a bad grade. Do not email your child’s teacher asking for an exception. Do not ask for an extension. Do not come up with some elaborate story about why your child does not have their homework. This teaches your child that if they slack on their responsibilities, they will still reap the rewards as if they had completed their work. The real world doesn’t work this way. Your boss wouldn’t entertain an email or phone call from your mother explaining why you’re slacking on the job, so your child’s teacher shouldn’t entertain one either.
Yes, it’s hard as a parent to see your child unhappy, but that moment of unhappiness teaches a lifelong lesson. If a child has to sit out recess for forgetting their homework, I guarantee that every time they pack their backpack they will be thinking about that in the back of their mind and making sure they have their homework.
2. Doing Everything for Them
“Can you tie my shoe?”
“My mom didn’t put my binder in my backpack.”
“The toilet paper in the bathroom is too scratchy. Can I call my mom to bring me some?”
Yes, I’ve heard all of these as a teacher. Tying shoes isn’t a big deal and is expected (if you teach kindergarten).
Your child’s day at school is seven hours of routine. Procedures are taught on the first day of school and are more or less followed to a T until the last day of school, and then again the following year and so on. There is no reason not to teach your child a routine at home and expect them to follow it. It helps them at school and helps them learn self-responsibility.
What’s wrong with saving some time in the morning and packing your child’s backpack for them? They won’t know what’s in there or where anything is. They will think their backpack is like a Mary Poppins bag and anything they need will magically appear. Let them pack their own backpack, and they will be mindful of what they need and learn the responsibility of preparation. Would you run out of the house with a bag your child packed for you to take to work? I didn’t think so.
This also applies to the personal-assistant mom who follows in her child’s path of destruction, picking up everything they never even realized they dropped/knocked over/made a mess of. There are two types of kids in a school cafeteria: the ones who mindlessly leave their trash and the ones who pick up their own trash as well as the trash of their mindless friends. The reason behind this is obvious; the picker-uppers have been taught to clean up after themselves, and the mindless kids’ mothers are not at school.
3. Expecting Rewards for Participation
Not everyone deserves a trophy. I’m sorry. Trophies, medals and ribbons are rewards, and a kid should feel proud to earn one—again, to earn one. You’ve probably earned some pay raises and promotions in your life through hard work. Maybe a coworker earned a position you were eyeing, so you decided to step up your game and work harder the next time an opportunity arose.
Kids are learning these lessons as well. Hard work results in recognition and reward. It sucks to see your baby crying because they didn’t win, but it also provides a valuable lesson and an opportunity to develop a plan to do better next time. And let’s be honest—wouldn’t you rather your child get no award rather than the “Completion Certificate for Second Grade”?
4. Bringing Your Child Lunch Every Day
I’ve had students who didn’t eat lunch with their class one day of an entire year because their parents brought them lunch and ate with them every day. Here’s the thing: If a kid is hungry, they will eat. And if they don’t? They’ll remember being hungry in the afternoon and won’t make the same mistake again. It’s great to come and have lunch with your child every once in a while and see what’s going on in their school life. Teaching them that they are better than their classmates because they get different food every day (even if it’s unintentional) only makes it harder for them to fit in and make friends. Kids get jealous. Jealous kids can be assholes. In elementary school, everything revolves around fairness. “That’s not fair that Sally gets Subway every day!” can cause some serious issues among 7-year-olds.
The best thing you can do for your child is to let them be a kid. Let them make mistakes and then talk to them about the lessons learned and how they can do better next time. Let them fail and encourage them to get up and try again. Let them suffer consequences and the temporary sadness from them. You don’t want to email a college professor in 10 years with a story about your parakeet flying away with your kid’s research paper.