The start of the new school year can be a nerve-wracking time for our kids and stepkids. Here are 10 tips to help smooth the way.
(Pronouns alternate between genders.)
1. Listen to what’s happening. If she’s stressed or upset about cliques, teams, new subjects, or anything else—give her your attention. Provide her time to get things out and do some processing before jumping in with judgments or suggestions.
2. Help him keep perspective. Gently remind him that there are more important things than who’s wearing what, or who is going out with whom. Let him know (in word and deed) that you love him for who he is, no matter what.
3. Set the stage. Ask your child what a successful school year would look like for her—friends, sports, activities, dating—and then have her tell you about how important each goal is to her and if she thinks each one is realistic. It’s OK to discuss your expectations regarding grades, but remember the important lessons learned outside the classroom and all the pressures which face our kids today.
4. Nurture your special father-child bond. Go out for ice cream, go swimming, shoot hoops, or do something you know he loves. The beginning of school is a great time to begin a new tradition. How about a lunch date the last Saturday of every month?
5. Let her cope and experiment. School can be a great place for her to learn important personal and interpersonal skills which will serve her later in life. Don’t rush in to solve every problem—listen. But never back down where her personal safety is concerned.
6. Walk a mile in his shoes. Try to imagine what he’s experiencing and what it means to him. Your understanding and empathy can help him make it through his own trials.
7. Celebrate success. We dads sometimes tend to focus more on what’s not going right than we do on what is going well. Be sure to let her know how proud you are of her talents and accomplishments—even if they are not readily recognized by others.
8. Be his hero. Stay always mindful of his unique spirit and give him your loyalty, kindness, acceptance, respect, and support. Your influence in his life is unique, so make it as positive as possible.
9. Tell stories about yourself. Many things have changed since you were a kid, but most of the important stuff is still the same. Share your own youthful struggles with staying true to yourself, your values, and your friends. Don’t make every story into a lecture, and be sure to admit your mistakes—they can teach her a lot (starting with humility)!
10. Honor his interests. Even if his passion isn’t your first choice for fun, be there for him, let him teach you about his interests, and learn why he’s passionate about them. Your validation is a huge help to him.
Joe Kelly is a father, speaker and primary media source on fathering — especially fathering healthy daughters. He has written 4 fathering books, including the best-seller Dads and Daughters®: How to Inspire, Understand and Support Your Daughter, and he speaks and trains men across North America on fathering, the media’s impact on families, successful strategies for raising kids, and how professionals can mobilize dads as allies in their work.