Back-to-school season is about to kick in, and parents everywhere will be breathing a collective sigh of relief as their kids return to a more structured learning and activity-filled environment. Reading, writing, rhythm and rules -- my kids are already itching to get back to school to meet their amazing new teachers and discover what's in store for them.
And yet, even as my husband and I steel ourselves for another year of homework, class projects and field trips, I have become acutely aware from my own professional experience that certain life lessons still remain to be taught to our kids -- critical lessons that we parents must take responsibility for.
In the August/September issue of Working Mother, we boiled those lessons down to the 5 Things Schools Don't Teach Our Kids, and they're good ones: how to advocate for yourself, how to fail, how to feel empathy for others, how to keep a singular focus (versus the tendency to multitask -- or in my house, multiscreen) and (the one we still have trouble with in our house) how to talk to grown-ups.
While schools focus on academics and prepare our kids for the oh-so-important standardized tests that hold the key to advancement for so many, it is up to us parents to teach our children the lessons they'll need to succeed in life.
My personal favorite of these is how to advocate for yourself. I learned this important lesson for myself in fifth grade, when I wanted desperately to be a school crossing guard at Lear North Elementary School. At a parent-teacher conference, my mom mentioned my desire to my teacher who said, "She never mentioned that!" I still remember how much I loved wearing that neon orange belt and silver badge -- thank goodness Mrs. Malinar made it happen! As my Working Mother colleague tells her kids, "You don't ask, you don't get." Whether it's an extension on a paper for good reason or reconsideration of a grade that seems unfair, we need to teach our kids to forget the whining and know when and where it is their right to speak up for themselves. Helping our kids role-play how to ask for what they need to ask for is one way to get them ready.
Learning how to fail is a skill that will serve all kids well later on, especially at work. A child who can pick herself up after falling flat on her face -- and move on without fear -- will always eventually succeed. Help your child by showing her how to create a strategy that turns a failure into problem solving. Even better: Next time you fail at something, explain to your child what happened and ask his or her advice on how to manage it.
And then there's empathy. In many schools, empathy is a focus for kindergarten or something to cover in the early years, but as school gets more demanding, the focus of caring for others gets low priority in school -- especially when grades become even more important. And yet, having feeling for others is imperative to success in life and in the workforce. Think about ways to help your children show concern for others, from using "please" and "thank you" to sending thank you cards for a gift to participating in a community or charity project.
The life lesson of how to keep a singular focus has become a real challenge as our children jump from watching a video to texting to homework, all in a single sitting. Consider establishing a "turn off the power" night where conversation or activities without electronics are your family's focus. One thing I do with my 5-year-old: We work together to see a task all the way through -- say, from making a grocery list to shopping to buying to putting it all away.
Talking to grownups seems to be a life lesson with even more meaning for a generation buried in their cell phones and tablets. Teaching the value of how to address a grownup -- starting with how to respond politely to questions -- means passing on a skill that will serve kids well for successful matriculation into real life way beyond high school.
Our calendars will soon fill up with the appointments that fill our busy lives and those of our kids. I propose that as parents, we take a moment to stay focused on making sure our kids are well-adjusted and prepared for the increasingly complex world they will join sooner than we can imagine.