Parent guilt is real. Making decisions about how to raise your child is difficult because it seems like every little thing has a tremendous impact on them. It starts at birth. Do you breastfeed or use formula? Should you use cloth diapers or disposable? Will they attend a traditional or Montessori preschool? Should they go to public school or an independent school? How much screen time should they have? How will you discipline? There are so many choices and decisions to make as a parent, and a lot of the time it can feel like you are making the wrong choice or if something does not go as planned you immediately blame yourself. It is sort of like you are damned if you do. You’re damned if you don’t.
The guilt becomes more prevalent as children get older and have more activities, projects, and extra curricular. We try our best to do everything, be there for every event, help with every project, or go on every field trip, but the truth is you cannot do it all. The guilt that comes with the feeling of inability to be there for all these events is hard. And it doesn’t help to see the “perfect parents” on social media.
Just know that every parent struggles, despite what it looks like from a few instagram posts. Parent guilt is real, but the truth is we need to stop blaming ourselves when we hit a bump in the road, when life throws a curveball at us, or when we cannot do it all. It is NOT your fault! You are trying your very best, and that is all that matters. How you handle the situation, your flexibility, and openness to change is important and more helpful than feeling guilty.
As teachers, we have witnessed many parents cry when we have parent teacher conferences because they feel guilty that a struggle that their child might be going through is their fault. It is not your fault and teachers are not judging you for it. We bring up challenges or struggles that your child may be having to help you help them. All children need support for different reasons and it’s part of growing up.
Instead of feeling guilty for everything you think you are doing wrong, we challenge all parents to make more time for themselves. Create more downtime for the family. The best thing you can do for your child is to have a healthy mental state. Creating balance in your life will help your child develop into a more balanced person too. Give yourself permission to say no sometimes. You don’t have to attend every birthday party or every playdate. You don’t have to be there for every class party or volunteer at every luncheon.
Parenting is hard and it has shifted in extreme ways over the last few decades. Over the years children have become the central focus of the family. Whereas before, children were members of the family, but life did not revolve around them. We feel a healthy family dynamic is one with balance where the children are cared for and the parents are also cared for. You’re going to make some mistakes and you won’t always know the answer. But keep in mind that your child will remember the memories that you make with them over a lifetime. Not that in kindergarten you forgot spirit day. Or that in third grade you could not make the movie night.
When you become a parent your heart is all of a sudden living outside of your body. In your eyes and soul your child is absolutely perfect. That is why it can be a scary feeling to notice that your child might have a difference or a delay of some kind. It may feel easier in the moment to brush it off as no big deal. And maybe in the end, it really is no big deal. However, it’s better to be cautious when your child is young, rather than wait until something becomes a real challenge for them later on. It is better for you, and more importantly for your child to figure out if there is a difference and get them the help and support that they might need.
We understand that sometimes parents feel shame around their child being different, and they feel like it might be their fault somehow. Please know that it is not your fault. We want to help shift the culture in a way that parents don’t have to feel this way. We want to help every parent understand that children need different things to help them grow and learn, and by giving them what they need, you are equipping them with the tools they will use for the rest of their life. You are setting them up for success because they are not going to stay young and little forever. They will grow up into adults, and they need the tools to be able to live happy healthy lives.
We are big advocates for early intervention for children who need it. Certain differences can be noticed within the first years of life. Examples could be an infant that doesn’t make eye contact, low muscle tone, or a baby that isn’t meeting specific milestones. If you notice something is off, ask your pediatrician. If something is going on, there are many services and resources available to help support healthy development through programs. For example, in California the Department of Developmental Services works with many regional centers throughout the state. These regional centers offer testing and early intervention for children up to age 5 at no cost to the parents. If you are in another state, ask your pediatrician for help, they can help guide you in the process of finding early intervention resources for your child.
In the later years, when your child enters preschool, and later kindergarten and beyond, it is important to communicate with your child’s teachers anything that will help your child succeed in school. On the other hand, it is also important to listen to educators when they notice something about your child. Teachers spend years learning about development and what is and isn’t age appropriate. When they bring something to a family’s attention, it is not to shame or blame. It is so they can give the child the tools they need to succeed. A teacher wouldn’t be doing their job if they didn’t do what was best for the child.
There is a saying that we often hear in our field: “They will grow out of it,” and sometimes that is very true. There are many age appropriate things that kids grow out of like eating their boogers, chewing on their hair, or fighting with their siblings. However, there are many things that children will not grow out of on their own, and the support of professionals might be needed. An administrator once told a parent this analogy, and it has truly stuck with us: “Wouldn’t you want to know if your child has asthma? And if they did, wouldn’t you want to make sure they had an inhaler to help them breath?” Early intervention is the inhaler for children with differences.
As teachers we have seen many children in our classes who have had tremendous success because they had services and early intervention when they were young. We also have personal experience with family, and we will forever be grateful to the regional centers and teachers who helped our loved ones learn and grow. We want to send the message that early intervention makes a huge difference in a child’s life, and you are not to blame for things that come up, but as their parent, it is your responsibility to help give them the tools they need to succeed.
There seems to be a rise in anxiety in children and young adults. According to the Center for Disease Control about 4.4 million children in the United States have been diagnosed with anxiety. This number is up from 5.5% in 2003 to 6.4% in 2011-2012. There are many contributing factors to the rise in childhood anxiety. Social media and the “Like Culture,” higher expectations put on them at school, practice with active shooter drills are some of the reasons cited by The Washington Post.
Anxiety can present itself in a variety of ways in children. According to the Anxiety Disorder Association of America children can lose their appetite, be irritable, have low self esteem, be sad or cry, have a loss of energy, have difficulty sleeping or concentrating, or not want to participate with friends or activities.
Anxiety in children is not uncommon and according to a Yale University study, research suggests that family accommodation plays a role in childhood anxiety because it does not allow children to face their fears. It means that when a child feels afraid or anxious about something and a parent consistently makes changes to accommodate the child without trying to address the fear, it could be feeding their anxiety.
The Yale University study focused on treating the parents and giving them the tools and language to help an anxious child. The researchers in this study believe that when parents consistently provide accommodations to an anxious child, the message they are sending is that the child can’t do it on their own. They never learn the tools or get the confidence to cope, which can create bigger problems later on in life.
Fear and anxiety are complex and vary from one child to another. According to Child Mind Institute, “anxiety is the most common emotional problem in children.” When helping an anxious child, you may need to try several things before you figure out what will work for your child and family. If you are unable to come up with solutions on your own, don’t be afraid to seek professional help to give you and your child healthy coping mechanisms.
Here are some things to consider when helping your child manage fears and anxiety:
Validate their feelings It is important to value that what your child is experiencing is very real. Try to validate their feelings without poking fun at the situation. At times, it may seem that making light of the situation will help your child, but it is important to validate their feelings.
Help them learn how to cope When your child is faced with a fear, do you jump in to save them or do you help them come up with solutions on how to overcome the fear? At some point, you will not be there to rescue them and that could cause even more anxiety in your child. If something is repeatedly coming up, consider sitting down with your child to discuss possible solutions. Then the next time it comes up, have the child try one of the solutions. Keep trying until you find something that works.
Sometimes you need to push and sometimes you need to pull back This isn’t always cut and dry. You may need to try things out to see what is going to work for your child. If you feel something is too much for your child, pull back. But if there isn’t any progress being made, you may need to push a little further. Every child, family, and situation is different. Be patient and consistent.
Be vulnerable with your child Children love when adults share their own experiences. Give your child examples of when you were afraid of something and how you overcame it.
Most importantly, if your child is anxious, it’s important to know that you aren’t alone. Seek help when you need it. Reach out to family, friends, teachers, and medical professionals. There is also an abundance of resources available to help children and families. The Child Mind Institute is a great place to start.
It’s time to talk about raising more independent kids! Teachers and parents need to work together to develop a sense of independence in our children. It is essential for their development and their future. We need to remember that children will grow up, and it is our job, as parents and teachers, to help them become independent and successful adults. Independence gives them a sense of purpose and responsibility and will help them grow into a more balanced child and will make them better prepared for the real world. Not only that, it will free up some of your time as a parent and some of our time as teachers.
We currently live in a time where it is becoming more common for kids to rely on adults to make every decision for them, to speak up for them if a challenge arises, and to save them from every mistake. Or even worse, not even allow them to make mistakes. Adults inherently want to protect children from all the harm that we conceive there is in the world, however by protecting them from everything and doing everything for them, we are taking away their sense of responsibility, problem solving skills, and independence. The very things that that will set them up for success in the real world.
According to Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Stanford Dean, overparenting leaves kids unprepared for college. We happen to agree, and moreover we feel overparenting can leave kids underprepared for elementary school too. We see it in our classrooms on a daily basis with students not carrying their own backpacks, parents unpacking them for them, parents turning in their homework, forgotten items constantly dropped off throughout the school day, and never ending emails from parents to do and tell children a variety of things. Parents have constant access to their child throughout the day and it is playing a role in delayed independence in kids.
Children start to naturally develop independence at two years old.The National Association for the Education of Young Children give tips on how you can start that development at a very young age. It takes time and effort, but will pay off immensely when it is time to send your child to school. If slowly each year you continue to give your child more responsibility, your child will become increasingly more independent.
We understand that it is difficult seeing your baby grow and become more independent. Sometimes it feels like it happens too fast and we try to hold onto the idea of our children as the babies they once were. However, if we continue to do this, we set them up for failure, so here are some recommendations to help your child be more independent at home and at school.
Drop your child off at school, and let them walk into their classrooms on their own. Starting in kindergarten they are capable of walking into their classes independently and following the morning procedures. By allowing them the autonomy to do this, children begin to feel responsible and capable. Over the years, we have seen many stressful morning drop offs whereupon the child cries and the parents coddle them in attempt to soothe the child. This often heightens the situation and does the opposite of what is intended. We promise that once you drop off your child, she or he will calm down and join in on the fun of school. Usually within five minutes.
Backpacks and Supplies
Let your child carry their own backpack. We see many parents continue to carry the backpacks of older kids. Let’s set them up early on to carry their own things. They can do it, and again it makes them feel empowered to be able to do it.
Unpacking and Packing
Put the responsibility on your child to unpack and pack their own backpack. If you develop a routine and have a school spot at home, this will save a lot of time and headache in the long run. Have a basket where they can place school papers for you to look through or have a special time when you go through it together. Items that go into the backpack should only be placed by the child. If they didn’t put it in, they most likely won’t know or remember it is there. We understand that it takes longer for parents to ask their children to put things in their backpack, and by doing it for them, you are saving time in the short term. Something that takes longer now, will set them up for success in the future.
Homework and Projects
Let your child do their homework and projects on their own. Of course you can assist them when they have a question or help them if they need an extra hand putting a project together. Don’t let a little hand become a takeover. Projects should be their ideas and their hard work. When we do our children’s work for them, we are sending a message that they hear loud and clear: yours isn’t good enough. This has a major effect on their confidence and risk taking and they will fear doing things independently.
Having chores at home is a classic way to develop responsibility and independence in children. They are capable of much more than we think and in the younger years, they actually really love to be a helper. For more information on age appropriate chores check out House Wife How-Tos: Chores That Kids Can Do.
At 4 and 5 years old children can start to get themselves dressed with limited parent involvement. A skill that is easily taught and goes a long way, is how to turn an article of clothing that is inside out to right side in. We would think that this would be second nature, but it is a skill that needs to be taught to school age kids. Imagine 20 kids trying to get one teacher to help them put on their jackets in the winter. That’s when we stop the main curriculum and have a “how to put on your jacket tutorial.”
These skills are really important for development and should not fall by the wayside. We already know that academics are important, but again kids need a balance. These skills are essential to help your children in the real world. And these are just some ways to help develop more independent kids. Certainly, there are many more ways to teach independence to children, and every child is unique. We understand that if your child has any special needs that not all of these things will work for your family and you have to do what works for your personal situation. We are also not trying to shame anyone or say that you need to be perfectly doing these things all the time. We want to help educate and partner with you to help raise more balanced and independent kids in this very busy, ever changing world we live in. When studies show that kids are increasingly more dependent, not developing basic responsibility, and unprepared for the basic rigors of life after high school, we need to take a step back, get to the cause, and make some changes. Even if it feels like these changes are going back to a simpler time, they are skills that hold strong in society today.