My son came home today, went immediately to his room and when asked what was wrong, began to cry. He’s in the 5th grade but is taking a pre-AP 6th grade math class and has recently been having some problems. Not with the math, but with the classroom policy of the teacher whereby she throws away any assignment turned in without a name. This is the second day in a row where he has not received an assignment back due to this policy. He’s pretty adamant that he put his name on his work, but without a paper, there is no proof and he doesn’t harbor any belief that the teacher is out to get him by erasing his name (neither am I). Regardless, it’s hard to see your ten-year-old come home despondent and not be able to do something. I guess I could call the teacher and get mad because her classroom policy negatively impacts my son, but what does that teach him? She made her policy clear at the beginning of the year and as a middle school teacher, she has several hundred students come through her classroom each day.
Transitioning from being the main provider of every need for my child to them taking on more and more responsibility is hard work but necessary! My goal with my children is for them to be responsible contributing members of society. We cannot attain that goal if I coddle them too much during their formative years; at this stage a failure isn’t life altering. And I say “we cannot attain that goal” because it isn’t just my goal and I cannot attain it by myself. This is a shared goal, not only between me and my children, but also the community that surrounds us: my spouse, grandparents, teachers, etc.
So, what can one keep in mind as they assist their child’s transitions through life? Here are a few that I’ve come up with.
- Be intentional. Instead of floating through life letting it blow you and your child this way and that, take some time to think about the end goal for your child’s development. Once you have that end goal, in my case “responsible contributing members of society” think about situations that may arise and how you can respond to those situations. In the case above, I have been very intentional about supporting the teachers that are in my child’s life. They are an authority figure and should be respected as such by both myself and my child. Do I struggle with my overprotective mama bear tendencies? Sure! But in this case, I was very intentional and thoughtful on gathering as much information as possible before jumping to conclusions.
- That leads me to my second point, Gather Intel. I’m an emotional being and when my child hurts, I hurt, and I want to fix it. However, rushing in and fixing the situation doesn’t support my overall goal of creating “responsible contributing members of society.” To do this, I must intentionally gather as much information as possible to guide my child in making the right decision. In the above case, I took a step back and asked whether the teacher’s “no-name” policy had been set at the beginning of the school year. It had. He was fairly certain that he had put his name on the paper. So, I asked whether he thought his teacher would erase his name? No, she would not. I asked another teacher, not even on the same campus, whether this teacher’s “no-name” policy was supported by the district. She and another student who overheard the conversation informed me that my son’s teacher isn’t the only teacher in the district with this policy. Now that I’ve intentionally set a goal and gathered as much intel as I can for this particular case, I need to advise my child and Guide his Response.
- Guiding the Response can be a little tricky since we are transitioning from telling our child how to respond to them owning their response. In this case, he was able to show me the online gradebook for the class and we were able to see that this one missing grade was not going to negatively impact his overall grade too much. He was OK from that standpoint. We confirmed that the concepts taught and demonstrated with that assignment were understood, so even though it wasn’t graded, he wouldn’t feel lost with other concepts that build upon those represented on the no-name assignment. Once he was able to get his emotions under control, he was able to focus better on moving forward and working on tonight’s homework. I then suggested that we make copies of all his math homework from now on, just to have back up should there be a question in the future concerning missing work. At this point, he was receptive of the suggestion and not overwhelmed by the situation.
As my son grows and matures, this three-step process will slowly transition from me doing most of the heavy lifting to him. Like his older brother, eventually I’ll expect my younger son to take point in gathering the intel. My part in guiding the response will also transition to him being responsible for laying out all the facts identified and then coming up with a solution, which he’ll be responsible for executing. In this way, he’ll develop the necessary tools to become a responsible contributing member of society.