School Is in Session, Are You Ready?
Though I'm out of school and don't have any little ones of my own, I can't seem to escape the excitement, anxiety and anticipation (or all the deals on pens and paper) as fall approaches. Maybe it's because I'm not in school (or maybe it's because I'm just a sappy person), but I always feel nostalgic at this time of year. Later in the month, when the air changes and smells crisp, my brain will naturally start calling up old memories of the first day of class and all the variety of emotions that went with it.
Partly to indulge my own desire to get the most of these memories—and partly because I want to brainstorm while I have the time before I actually have the kids—I want to share a couple of my favorite ideas for helping your kids get ready for school.
As a toddler, nursery school is totally terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. If you have an independent Leo—yes, I love horoscopes—the chance for your child to start developing her social personality will be a welcome development. As the parent, you're the open arms for comfort, love and affection, but you're also the person who makes it okay to go off into the world because home is a safe place. when she gets back.
To help your child get ready for nursery school, start her off with a couple playdates. Learning how to socialize, share, be heard and listen are all exceptionally difficult concepts, especially for an only child who has never interacted with people her own age without a parent around to intervene when she tries to yank the crayon away a little to hard. But it's also going to be very important that your child not feel like she is losing you by spending time away. Therefore, carving out time to be together—I remember loving to cook (make a terrible mess with food) with my mom and doing fun craft activities together—is important when it comes to growing a well-adjusted and confident child. Giving your toddler an opportunity to be in control may sound like a recipe for disaster, but it is actually a great way to teach her to respect authority, to tame her own fits of emotions and to be both a good leader and a good follower.
Few are lucky to look back on grade school as a time of pure joy. Instead, it's usually remembered as a time when everyone was awkward—9 to 13 is definitely the ugly duckling phase of life. Not to mention your teachers have cruelly done away with things like naps and snack time. At this age, you, the parent, is the constant support, letting your child know she will outgrow pimples and that Tommy will stop pulling her braid just in time to ask her on a date somewhere down the line.
To help your child get ready for grade school, practice penmanship (this was huge for my brother), invent games that practice multiplication and division tables and maybe spend some time doing creative research projects about random countries around the world. Your biggest challenge is going to be making your child feel confident and prepared enough to perform in school and actually enjoy it. So often, kids who are worried about failing don't try at all, and the best thing you can do for them is to give them a head start and make learning fun. A little early success goes a very long way in terms of bolstering their confidence in what they already know and their willingness to learn new things.
Then they get to high school and the supposed four best years of their lives (pre-college, of course), and, once again, everyone sort of recalibrates and adjusts into the adult world of all work and no play, at least in terms of grueling classes, hours of homework and the eternal buzz about college preparation and admission processes. At this time, parents can and should be the rallying party, the sounding boards and, sometimes, the critics.
To help your teenager prepare for high school, start by helping her figure out how to specialize and find something she's passionate about. The worst thing you can do is force your child to do too many things and not give her an opportunity to actually figure out what she loves. That being said, don't let her sass you out of doing anything at all. That's what I mean when I said you might need to be her critic and force her to realize when it's time to take action. And of course, you'll hopefully also be there to reward her when she reaps the fruits of her efforts. Just remember: There's helpful feedback and kind prodding, and then there's nagging and overbearing, pushy parenting. You're the one who has to figure out how to stay positive so both you and your child can be happiest.
And finally, if she's are lucky, your child will end up at college, land of freedom and learning and parties galore. The personal reinvention here is on a totally different level because, for the first time since preschool, you have to learn what life is like without your parents' constant presence. In college, parents finally get a chance to relax, even if they stay active on the sidelines.
As a parent, you can help your college student best by realizing that the thing she needs most is independence. For me, college was a time to discover my adult identity. Just as in preschool, the best thing you, the parent, can do is provide a constant source of love and affection in the background. Let your child know that it's okay to become an adult and still be your child at the same time.
If there's one area nearly every college student could use a little help in, it's figuring out how to live a healthy lifestyle. You can pack a copy of my brand new, revised and expanded book, The Dorm Room Diet between their extra-long twin sheets to help get them off on the right foot. It's a friendly guide to making the most of their time in college without gaining the dreaded "freshman 15," or losing their sanity! I wrote it while I was in college, so the advice is specific to the special environment that being away at school represents. And, best of all, my advice comes from personal experience, and it really works. I lost 30 pounds by getting my priorities straight and being conscious of what, when and where I ate.
I'm looking forward to enjoying watching my children progress through each of these stages, even though I know it will be hard to let them go. My mother always talks about how she still thinks of me as my 2-year-old self—or maybe she says that I still act like my 2-year-old self. I always forget. But learning how to remain a parent at all times without parenting in the same way you always have is a struggle for anyone, but one you can triumph over. Good luck! Hope to see you once I get there.
Daphne Oz is the author of the national best-seller The Dorm Room Diet—now available in paperback—and The Dorm Room Diet Planner and creator of the Dorm Room Diet Workout DVD.
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