School jitters can hit parents harder than kids. Many who constantly worry too much about their children, though, tend to forget what is best for them.
Maybe you call friends to check who the best third-grade teacher is, which math tutor works the hardest, or which soccer coach will most likely get your daughter in front of college scouts.
You lose sleep over your child’s grades, friends, clothes, teachers, and opportunities. You get frustrated when your fifth-grade daughter just doesn’t seem to care about school as much as you do. How can that be?
You’re not sure, so you’ve even made an appointment with your pediatrician, psychologist, or psychiatrist to figure out what’s wrong with her. You are a loving mother or father because — of course you just don’t want her to fall behind or cut herself short. Poor child.
Yes, she is a poor child. Not only does she have to contend with her own jitters about school, she has to deal with yours, which are three times as intense.
She gets on the bus in the morning quiet and somber, trying to tune out your admonitions to “study hard, make more friends, try out the violin this year, or add a second sport.” After all, you “just want her to be happy” and that means that you — dear parent — must breathe down her neck.
If you identify yourself in this paradigm, let me make a plea on your child’s behalf: Pleeease stop.
Your daughter needs you to teach her that she is strong and capable — not weak and helpless without you. Your son wants to know that he’s more mature this year. He can tell his teacher what he needs to, and he can talk to his coach on his own. He doesn’t need you to.
This is a good thing.
I’m not being mean. I get it. As a parent, caretaker, and guardian, you want desperately to make sure your daughter gets everything she can from her school experience. Yet the truth is — and this is important — she is more likely to grow intellectually and emotionally if you back away.
Struggles make kids stronger. But you don’t want her to experience those struggles. You want to make her life easier and more productive — yet she needs you to help her become wiser, more independent, and more self-confident. This comes only from giving her freedom and space to navigate her social and academic world on her own — especially during these first two months of school.
Don’t take this personally. I have led the pack in being overbearing, overprotective, and lionesque when it comes to my own four kids and school. And I’ve learned the hard way that hovering over and clawing on behalf of kids cripples them and can throw them into fits of anxiety.
Friends, put your kids on the bus and let them be. Don’t pester — but watch them closely. Let them stumble, cry, and grapple with the challenges of school life. I promise that if you give them freedom to stumble and find their way through, you’ve succeeded in raising a stronger young woman or man.
Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for 30 years. She is the author of the online course, “The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids,” which is part of The Strong Parent Project.