The week's best parenting advice: August 23, 2022
Encouraging growth through hardship, don't make college applications more stressful than they have to be, and more
Encouraging growth through hardship
American children have had a tough few years, but parents can help kids grow through the crisis, writes Anya Kamenetz in The New York Times. "By around age 8, most children are developing the cognitive maturity required to see that negative experiences may have benefits," writes Kamenetz. That doesn't mean parents should "push" kids to grow through bad times. It's better for parents to think of themselves as "expert companions," says psychologist Richard G. Tedeschi, "guiding children to a new, and potentially better, place." That means not just teaching your kids that growth through hardship is possible, but preparing them to handle difficult emotions, listening to their experiences "without judging or downplaying anything," and them helping them derive new meaning from their struggles. And encourage them to help others, which can "lend perspective" to their experiences and expand "on the feelings of compassion that arise when we encounter difficulties."
Don't make college applications more stressful than they have to be
Parents can help to make college applications less stressful, but "if we want our students to breathe easier about the admissions process, we have to breathe easier first," writes Allison Slater Tate in The Washington Post. That means acknowledging that there is no single path to success, and that the college your child attends is not "a bullet point on your parenting résumé." Instead of sporadically springing the topic of college on your teen, build time to discuss it into your weekly routine — and don't bring it up outside of those windows. Avoid terms like "safety school" or "dream college," prioritize visiting the schools your child has a good shot of getting into over the long shots, and celebrate every acceptance with equal enthusiasm. If possible, let someone else offer the constructive criticism on their essays, and put yourself on "hug duty" instead.
How to raise an adaptable child
Flexibility is a skill — not a personality trait — and kids don't usually start to develop it until the age of four, so there's little point in punishing them for their inability to cope with change, writes Christian Dashiell in Fatherly. Instead of sending a kid to time-out when they flip out about a change to the usual dinner menu, prompt your child to ask for a "re-do or a compromise." "To develop a skill over time, a person needs to practice that skill in little doses," says psychologist Stuart Ablon. Engage them in a collaborative problem-solving process, during which both child and parent share their concerns and then work together toward a solution or compromise. The goal is to find a "sweet spot where kids are pushed outside of their comfort zone but not pushed so far that they melt down," Dashiell writes.
The case for mental health days
Most schools don't allow kids to miss school for mental health reasons, and a lot of parents couldn't afford to miss work even if they did. But there's a case to be made for "mental health days," writes Allison Slater Tate in Parents. "Just as we would provide or allow a day off if a child had a cold, caring for their mind and their emotional well-being is of equal importance," says clinical psychologist Sarah Cain Spannagel. Some kids may be too scared of falling behind to take a day off school, in which case, it may make sense to find other ways for them to re-energize. And others may be tempted to use them to avoid tests or deadlines. "I would suggest taking only one or two days off at a time, just to make sure kids don't fall into that trap," says Dr. Spannagel.
Fending off the first-day jitters
Especially for kids who struggle with change, the first day of a new school year can be as daunting as it is exciting. In which case, it may be worth taking a few "practice runs" before the big day, writes Rachel Fairbank in Lifehacker. A simple walk to the bus stop, or a car ride from home to school can help familiarize kdis with their new routine. Take advantage of opportunities to see the inside of their classroom before classes start, and arrange play dates with any kids who you know will be in their class. Walk them through the process of packing up their school supplies in the evening, and picking out an outfit for the next day. And make sure to take a look at the school's website or social media for special first-day procedures, "so there are no last-minute surprises."