Dear Dr. Fournier:
I read your article about becoming the CEO of your child’s education and how to approach parent/teacher conferences. I am a parent who has a child entering first grade next year, and I am open to suggestions about what I can do to prepare since I am in position to do it on the front end. What can I do to help my child transition smoothly into school? How do I start being a CEO?
After recently writing about the mentality, focus and tactics necessary for parents to use parent/teacher conference time constructively, I will follow up for you with a starting point on how parents can lay a solid foundation for their children that will address some intangibles that, when missing, can weigh heavily on children’s performance and/or conduct in the classroom.
The moment a parent sends their child to school, they are introducing new authority figures into their children’s lives. Since this is the case, it is essential for the child to understand from the very beginning that the teacher’s job is to teach, the child’s is to learn and the parent’s job is to parent. Translation: Parents are still the primary authority figure(s).
When a child reaches school age, parents are usually occupied with the usual concerns: “Will my child be all right? Will he/she be nervous? Will he/she get along with the other kids? Is lunch taken care of?” This list goes on and on. However, lost in all of these questions is one of preparedness: “Have I prepared my child to attend school and does he/she understand the difference between school and home?”
This seems like a question that is easily dismissed with an “Of course I have.” However, I have found (repeatedly) in thirty years of dealing with children that many times the answer to this question is a resounding “No.” How can this be? The parents love their children; the teachers want their students to do well. Where is the disconnect to be found? The reason, I have determined, is that both parents and teachers in many cases are guilty of what I call the innateness fallacy: the idea that their children have magically learned how to perform the job of being a student intuitively. This is not the case. Just as a manager needs to learn how to manage in order to have success, children need to learn how to perform their job: the job of being a student.
WHAT TO DO
Before a child goes to school for the first time, school should be (playfully) practiced at home. From entering the door to going to their cubby hole to put their things away and going to where a teacher might ask them to go – for example, a table with others, or a place to sit on the floor where each is designated to sit. This “entry to school” will change from year to year so taking one morning to find out what the next grade does can have enormous behavioral and emotional payoffs as you practice for the next year. If you cannot visit, a phone call to a teacher from the next grade is just as good.
The main thing a parent must understand is that in most cases you are handing your child to a stranger each year. As the CEO of your child’s education, you are in position to be proactive and to be sure that your child understands what the job of being a student entails, and that school is not home; the rules are different.
Prepare your child for the rules of school. Do this every year until you feel that your child has learned that every year the rules will change and they can come home and tell you the changes and you can know if your child has a problem with any of them. The purpose of this is for your child to learn that school is like visiting another country. Essentially, they must understand that “when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Some behaviors that are acceptable at home are not acceptable at school, and children need to learn the difference. As I stated above, this is one of those simple understandings that is many times assumed by both parents and schools to be innate. Another common error would be to assume that your child is already able to discern problems and develop solutions without prior teaching and continued guidance. Do not fall victim to these assumptions. Do something about them before your child experiences frustration (and/or humiliation) from the transition into the “job” of being a student. It is a great boon to a child to have a parent or guardian that is ahead of the game and is able to come up with solutions and advocacy.
CONTACT DR. FOURNIER