With the constant chatter about the so-called dangers of both and under and over-involved parenting, many parents are beginning to wonder how and when to draw the line. They’re also left to wonder how this applies to a child’s education. Is it best to step back and let the teacher handle all things academic? Is it OK to speak up on behalf of a child who is struggling? When do parents cross the line between being an attentive parent and being a helicopter parent?
As a child and adolescent psychotherapist, I field a lot of calls from parents concerned about school issues but not sure how to proceed. Homework battles, peer problems, and academic struggles are issues that bleed over from school to home, and parents often feel like they’re picking up the pieces of the school day each night.
One mom tries hard to encourage her daughter to speak up if she needs help, but her daughter (age 8) is very quiet. She has a tendency to try to get through things. When mom steps in to seek guidance, she’s consistently told that her daughter needs to learn to ask for help on her own. Her daughter, however, is caught in a pattern of surviving the day and falling apart in the evening. She’s under stress and no longer enjoying school.
RELATED: 5 Ways to Raise a Kid Who Speaks Up
Research shows that parental involvement in education improves academic outcomes for kids. When parents are involved in a child’s education, the child benefits in many ways:
· Increased self-esteem
· Better school attendance
· Positive attitude about school
· Positive classroom experiences
Parents also benefit from a strong connection with the school. When parents take an active role in their child’s education, they experience the following benefits:
· Better understanding of the child’s academic strengths and weaknesses
· Knowledge about what the child learns each week/month
· Social connectedness with other parents in the school community
· Positive relationship with the child’s teacher
· Increased understanding of the child’s development
Here’s the catch: Some parents tell me that they worry about being viewed as the over-involved “helicopter” parent who doesn’t trust the teacher if they get too involved while others worry that juggling family and work makes it difficult to be as involved as other parents who may stay at home. And some, like the mom above, are turned off from involvement because they feel dismissed. How can parents reap the benefits of involvement without the negative feedback? It’s a balancing act, for sure, but the benefits of involvement outweigh the potential pitfalls of being mislabeled.
Just because you can’t volunteer in the classroom or attend every event doesn’t mean you have to feel completely out of the loop. Find out how the school and your child’s teacher shares information and get it on it. Between email, Facebook pages and groups, classroom websites, and weekly newsletters, schools often do their best to keep parents informed.
Sometimes the amount of information coming home feels overwhelming. Factor in 10 to 15 minutes a day to review school related information so that you know what’s happening.
Share your talents!
Kids love to engage with parents in the classroom and even if you only volunteer a couple of times a year to share your specific expertise, this helps you get to know the other kids in the class.
Offer to help the classroom with a couple of projects that showcase your talents and give you the opportunity to connect with the class.
Build a connection with the teacher.
Drop off and pick up are generally not the best times for teacher check-ins because teachers are pulled in too many directions at once, but it’s always nice to stop and say hello. I always encourage parents to ask the teacher his or her preferred method of communication and establish positive communication.
If you have questions or concerns, ask if a conference or phone call will suffice. Get to know the teacher just as you would like the teacher to get to know you.
Connect with other parents.
You don’t have to join the PTA (although many parents enjoy volunteering their time alongside other parents to strengthen the school community) to establish connections with other parents. When parents get to know other parents of kids in the class, it helps build a positive classroom atmosphere.
A lot of parents confide in me that they worry about striking the right balance to help their kids feel successful at school. The truth is that parents can’t engineer academic or social success for their kids, but building healthy ties with a child’s school and maintaining active involvement in a child’s education does improve academic and social outcomes for the child.