According to Elizabeth Stone, parenting is “to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Like most moms, I’m probably a bit overprotective. I want my children to experience all the good in life. To know kindness and happiness, to be strong and smart, to put good into the world and receive it right back.
Last year, my oldest daughter started school. Kindergarten was a bit of a dream. We had the best teacher, she made lots of friends, I found my group of moms and I generally felt that it was the perfect start to our elementary school experience. Now, she is in first grade and cue the drama. Perhaps I’m overreacting a bit, but things got real – fast. Unfortunately, with the start of first grade came a bit of bullying and the need to manage friends feeling left out.
As a parent, this presents an interesting dilemma – when do you let them work things out on their own and when do you step in because they can’t do it by themselves?
Raising school-aged children is a struggle. You ask about their day and what they did. The response… “Nothing.” You want to help when things go wrong but you also want them to learn to work through conflict on their own. Here are a few ideas to help you know what is happening in your child’s life, identify existing conflict, coach how they can address a hard situation and when they should ask for help.
1. Ask questions. A fellow mom noted that the key to soliciting information from her daughter is to ask the right question. The problem? The right question changes by the day. So it is incredibly important to ask questions and then ask more questions. Some days, I hear very little about what happened at school. But eventually, the information starts flowing and I get more details than I even thought to ask for. Suggested questions include: what was your favorite part of the day, what was the hardest part of your day, did you see or play with [INSERT NAME OF FRIEND] and what did you do in [CLASS]. In first grade, the teacher shares a recap of the week each Friday so I always make a point to ask about specific things she mentions. Specificity is key to eliciting information from my first grader.
2. Listen. Perhaps this is more common among girls, but my daughter talks a lot. And often times, when I really listen, I hear something subtle that she clearly wants me to know or ask about, but doesn’t want to make a big deal of. By giving her ample opportunity to share and really listening to what she has to say, I’m better able to identify when there might be an issue and help her work through it or encourage her to try to address on her own.
I make a point of doing the same thing with her friends. I love to ask about the activities they are involved in, how they like their teacher and class, and how their family is. I then make a point of listening because I think every child wants to know that someone is listening and really hears them. The more people in their lives who care, the better.
3. Talk it through. Like adults, children don’t know what they don’t know. When you identify a situation that requires action, it’s helpful to talk through the situation. This helps your child understand what the issue is, why it’s an issue, how they address the situation and the desired outcome. Conflict, whether good or bad, is always best to deal with in real time. By talking through the situation and how to work through it, you help your child learn necessary life skills while also showing you care.
4. When the situation is too big. In today’s world, bullying is a huge issue and no parent wants their child to be the victim. While I do think it is important for children to learn to work through conflict on their own, sometimes you just need to step in. That might mean talking to another child’s parents or reaching out to the school. Whatever the situation, it’s often about following your gut. In my experience, these situations tend to resolve themselves quickly but in the rare case that it is bigger than any one child, taking action is key to setting a positive example for your child.
While first grade has brought with it more drama than we experienced in kindergarten, I find myself being grateful for the opportunity to talk through these situations with my daughter. I appreciate fellow moms who are open to working together instead of fueling the fire with more drama.
To my oldest daughter… May you know the importance of a kind heart, of being inclusive and leading by example. No one wants to be left out or singled out. The sooner she learns these important lessons, the sooner she is able to share them with others and show other people the value of kindness. I want her to be the nice girl forever.