by Rachelle Lipschultz
It’s the start of a new school year, and the Family Outreach Network is opening it with a host of new programs and services! First, our extensive noncredit courses includes some new offerings, including “So You Want to be a Foster Parent,” “Life Before Birth: The Prenatal World” and “Grandparenting.” Consider enrolling in an intergenerational class with your children or grandchildren. Learn Spanish, French, or Italian; enjoy tasty and nutritious recipes; take in the sights on Phototreks; and much more! Finally, we are kicking off our lunchtime Brown Bag series with “There Must Be a Better Way Than Spanking,” on September 13. Details about these and all our other courses and programs can be found on our fall brochure.
Missed a Brown Bag lunch? You can now catch them on local cable television each week. Past topics include building self-esteem in children, parenting in multicultural America, and creating families with reproductive technologies. Please visit our TV schedule for up-to-date times and channel information.
AVOIDING THE "HELICOPTER PARENT" TRAP
The school year is starting, and with it a new onslaught of complaints from teachers and school administrators about "helicopter parents." This is a term used to refer to parents who "hover" over their children's education. They cross the line that separates healthy involvement from unhealthy; they take an active role in every aspect of their children's education, shouldering many of the responsibilities that their children should be taking care of themselves. Such parents have the best of intentions, but the net result is that they smother their children and prevent them from developing the self-reliance that they will need to succeed in life.Unintended lessons
Consider the following scenario: At dinner one evening, a child suddenly remembers that he has a project due the following day. It was assigned three weeks ago, but he forgot about it (or just didn't care to start on it) until today. The parents, alarmed at the thought of their child getting a failing grade, immediately jump into action to help him finish the project on time. They research information online (doing some of it themselves because it's quicker that way), rush to the store to buy supplies, and stay up late to help put it all together. The end result is that the child gets an A. A happy ending? Not really! In addition to the grade on the project, the child will also learn these lessons from this experience:
Helping children take charge of their own learning
- It's okay to procrastinate.
- If I don’t do my work, my parents will help me do it.
- If I don't take responsibility for my own affairs, I won't be held accountable.
- Getting a good grade is more important than learning the material.
- It's okay for me to get credit for work that somebody else did.
Obviously nobody is suggesting that children don't need assistance, or that parents shouldn't take an interest in their children's schoolwork. However, there is a world of difference between doing something for your children and helping them learn to do it themselves. In developmental psychology, we call this "scaffolding." Just as construction companies use scaffolding to support a building until it can stand on its own, so can parents provide just enough support to enable a child to do a task on her own. The scaffolding should be a temporary support, not a permanent structure. How much scaffolding you will need to provide, and how much children can do on their own, will obviously depend on the child's age and maturity. The point is to start as early as possible, so that you can get both you and them in the habit of fostering independence rather than dependence.
Here are some suggestions for helping your children learn to take responsibility for their own learning:
- Help your children learn where to find out information for themselves. This doesn't mean you can't offer suggestions, but even at a young age you can ask questions, "Do you think we can find that in a dictionary? What about an encyclopedia?"
- Children need to experience frustration and failure if they are to learn to coping mechanisms. It may be tempting to always jump in when you see your child making a mistake, but in the long run this can do more harm than good. However, take care not to let the frustration become overwhelming. You don't want your child to give up, but to learn that perseverance will eventually pay off. Keep your distance when warranted, but monitor the situation so that you can step in if things become too much for your child to handle.
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