September 10, 2013

Teacher Confessions: 5 Things Teaching Taught Me About Parenting

Although I left my teaching career behind with the birth of my son, I can't forget the lessons in parenting that I learned from the families I met and worked with during the course of my career.

I had the rare opportunity to get to work closely with many types of families as a teacher. When you work closely with children, you get to know the family dynamics. It plays such a critical role in the child's development. I worked with families even more in-depth when there were problems with learning or behavior and I couldn't help but notice some recurring themes. I'll share them with you today.

1. Be the parent, NOT the friend. It still surprises me how some parents prefer to be viewed as the "cool" mom or dad. They do not want to take responsibility for the discipline of their children. Rather, they think it's alright if the child figures life out for himself.  I've actually had parents tell me that they are tired of hard situations, ask me to stop telling them and "just deal with it" at school. They spend lavish amounts of money on parties and activities with little structure or boundaries. I have witnessed that children raised this way can learn to become manipulative, prone to tantrums and lying, disorganized, and can have more behavior problems at school when compared to peers raised in a home where the parents are viewed as respected authority figures. I must remember: if I fill my home with love, acceptance, and boundaries, my child will follow suit. The same goes for filling a home with sarcasm and disrespect. Even if I think they will pick up the "right stuff" over time, they are learning daily from me. They are following my lead, whether I like it or not. They will pick up my values, so I'd better take responsibility and teach by example.

2. Care about the little things. Occasionally my class would prepare events for parents to attend (plays, poetry recitals, projects). Eventually, after several weeks of hard work and preparation, the students would be ready to show me (and their parents) the fruits of their hard work. Every time there would be one kid whose parents said they would try to be there, but ultimately would not show up. It broke my heart a little every single year. But it's not only that. Parents were often too busy to help with homework or sometimes even stay for a sporting event where their child was participating. I know this because I was sometimes invited to kids' games in the place of an absent parent. That's rough. These things mean a great deal to kids. They feel accepted and loved when their parents care about the seemingly small things. They will strive to achieve when they know it matters to their parents. It's a lesson I'm glad I learned before having kids of my own.

3. Be flexible and understanding. One of the most sad things I witnessed during my last year of teaching was a child crying in the corner of the restroom, terrified to come out for fear of what the father would say about a grade. Terrified. Shaking. Refusing to get off the bathroom floor. I made a mental note that day to never be so rigid and demanding that my child would be so scared to tell me about anything. Of course there should be consequences for disobeying and a little bit of fear of those consequences is healthy, but the expectations and consequences should be reasonable. My child should know that regardless of a mistake, he will be loved unconditionally.

4. Kids need structure. It's not up for debate. There's truth to the saying "early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise".  It makes kids alert, better behaved and more organized. I know this is a fact. I've seen it over and over and over again in the classroom. We owe it to our kids to put them to bed at a decent hour, to keep them on a fairly regular schedule, and help them feel secure by knowing what to expect on a "normal" day. It was sad but not surprising that kids who had no idea who was picking them up from school or where they were sleeping that night were an emotional wreck.  May I never do that to my son.

5. Above all else, never withhold love.  I've said this before and I'll say it again. It doesn't matter how much excess stuff you can provide for your kid. Seriously, the name brand clothes, expensive toys, lavish vacations and whatever else you can imagine really don't matter in the end. All a child really wants is to know that his parents love him and are taking care of his needs. He also feels far more secure when he knows his parents love each other. It may be controversial to write that statement, but time and time again, I witnessed that it's true. I will love all my children equally and love their father...period.

Sometimes I might have to stay up a little later in order to make time for homework help. I might have to get up earlier every day to make sure a healthy breakfast is prepared before school. I might have to postpone an important meeting to be at my kid's school play. Maybe dinner out with my girlfriends isn't quite as important as making it to that baseball game. I will have to discipline my child. I will have to show love and grace when someone doesn't deserve it. I want my son to feel so loved and secure in our family that he never feels the need to seek for it in destructive ways. I hope that my husband and I are creating a family atmosphere where we can be our son's rock and his soft place to land.

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