There's a lot of advice out there about making all that back-to-school work easier for parents. I have the best idea of all: Do less. Lots less.
Most parents experience a whirlwind few weeks at the beginning of the school year. Forms need to be filled out. School supplies packed into backpacks. Clothes organized and purchased. Schedules planned. Extracurricular activities chosen and registration completed.
Thinking about logistical, emotional, and academic readiness is by far the best place for a parent to put their energies.
So how is a parent supposed to navigate all this work while staying on top of the big picture? By doing less. Here are four things you should delegate. Wondering who would take these on? Easy. Your child!
1. Don't fill out forms, just sign them.
Whether they're online or on old-fashioned paper, your child can do most of the heavy lifting on the tech contract, photo release, lunch choices, even the school and sports physicals. They may need to sit at the kitchen table and ask a few questions along the way ("What's an insurance member ID number?") but it's still better than having to do the whole set (four times, in my case!) yourself. Even better, you're reversing a little of that summer slide by getting them back in the groove of reading and writing and doing homework.
2. Don't buy school supplies that your child can find around the house.
There are strong reasons that our kids' schools have to ask for allthegluesticks and other supplies. But if this school year isn't your first rodeo, you may not need to purchase everything on that list. Teach your child to be a little frugal and a lot resourceful. Send them on a scavenger hunt around the house starting with last year's backpack that didn't get cleaned out. Oh, that's just my house? Alrighty then...
Anything they can find and check off the list will open up your budget a little bit more!
3. Don't ask to change your child's class for the "right" teacher or the "best" friend.
Have you ever tried to work out the classroom schedules for a hundred kids, or even two dozen? As the daughter of a school administrator, believe me when I tell you that this is a logistical nightmare rivaling the invasion of Normandy. That's one reason to leave your child's classroom assignment the way it is, but it's not the best reason. The best reasons are these:
- They know what they're doing. The school has a lot of practice figuring out the right mix of kids, teacher and schedule for each age group. Have a little faith.
- There are definitely some standout teachers in every school. If your child didn't get that teacher you love (or have heard amazing things about) it may be because they don't need that teacher most this year. Your child will do fine — even great — with the teacher they got.
- Good friends can learn a lot by being in different classes, and tough kids have a lot to teach your child as well. If your child has not been the victim of repeated bullying by the child that worries you, then just see how it plays out. If your child has been victimized by this child, then the school needs to know that.
- Nobody learns when they're comfortable. Let your child have the less amazing teacher or the less perfect social group — it will make a really valuable year.
- Let your child amaze the both of you! If you step in front of your child and try to make the path smooth and perfect, you're accidentally sending the message, "I think you can't handle any difficulty." By stepping back when your child faces something challenging, you are saying "I have faith in you, I'm here for you."
4. Don't be the master of their schedule.
I'm asked often what an age-appropriate level of "busy-ness" is. How many extracurriculars is too many? What does "overscheduled" look like? Here is a guideline:
Your child's schedule should fit in their head or in their own planner. Meaning, an elementary schooler should not have so many activities that he can't remember if today he needs his art supplies or violin or cleats. And a middle or high schooler should have the organizational skills to keep track of her own schedule. If that isn't the case, then a little more downtime to develop those skills will be far more valuable than one more class, team or lesson.
Do less so you can help more.
Dr. Deborah Gilboa is a Pittsburgh-area family physician, mother of four boys and author of multiple books including "Get the Behavior You Want, Without Being the Parent You Hate!".