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How to Be An Engaged Parent While Deployed

November 11, 2014

By Judy Razo

How to Be An Engaged Parent While Deployed | A soldier chats with his family on a tablet.

A military deployment comes with a lot of stress and a long list of things to do before departure. For a military parent who is about to deploy, the emotional strain of leaving a family and the distress that it will put on the children can be especially stressful.

Children don’t often understand why mommy or daddy has to go away. They might blame themselves for the absence or assume responsibility for the well-being of the family while their parent is gone. They may also act out or fall into a depression due to the parent’s absence.

Regardless of the child’s age, the biggest impact a deployment has on a child is emotional, which can manifest in a number of ways. When you are the parent being deployed, how do you stay engaged in your child’s life and relieve some of that emotional strain for your child?

Education
Before deployment, talk to your child’s teacher, school counselor, and principal. Let them know you are being deployed, for how long, and share any necessary information they may need from you. By being aware of this emotional strain on your child, the educators can help your child cope at school. Your child may need quiet time to him or herself or extra attention that the teacher, counselor, or even principal may be able to provide.

Talk to your child’s teacher about upcoming class projects. You will then be able to ask about those projects when you talk to your child during your deployment. It will also give him or her something to work on so he or she can have an update for you the next time you communicate. Ask about your child’s grades and how he or she is doing in school.

If possible, continue to email your child’s teacher while you’re away. Consider it a partnership—let the teacher help you monitor your child’s academic and social well-being while you’re gone. He or she observes your child’s behavior at school and can alert you and your partner to any changes so that you can help your child.

Communication
Communication is essential during your deployment. Depending on your accessibility to technology and the Internet, you can use platforms like Skype or Google Hangouts to have face-to-face check-ins with your child. Send regular emails and photos when possible. Describe where you are and tell stories of your adventures. What might seem mundane to you will help color your child’s imagination and most importantly, let him or her know that you are okay.

Not all days will be good days for conversations during your deployment, but it’s important to stay positive in front of your child. Come up with a code word for you and your partner to use on those tough days in case the conversation needs to remain light and short or if you are free to talk openly.

Everyday Life
Have your partner or child’s caregiver maintain as much normalcy and routine as possible. Children thrive on routines, so keeping one in place while you’re away will help your child cope. Ask your partner to plan events and help your child stay busy to pass the time.

If your child needs to be disciplined by your partner or caregiver, be supportive of your counterpart. You may not be there to implement the discipline, but your opinion still counts a lot both to the caregiver and to your child. The disciplining will be more effective if you are behind it.

Although you will not physically be there, try to surround your child with your presence before you leave. Put photos of you with the family and with your child throughout the house. Leave a special photo for each child to have in his or her bedroom. Before you leave, make a gift for each other—the activity serves as a bonding opportunity and you can each keep a token from the other during your time apart.

Reintegration
When you return from deployment there will be an adjustment period for both you and your family. Take time for yourself to readjust to your environment. Use the military’s resources and support for you, your partner, and your child as you acclimate back to daily life at home. Spend time with your family as well as one-on-one time with your child before attending or organizing welcome home parties. Your child will need to feel that he or she is a priority and that you have returned as his or her mommy or daddy.

There are many resources you can use to help with every phase of deployment, including Military One Source, Military Child Education Coalition, and the Family Readiness Centers available at military installations.

A deployment away from your child will never be easy on either of you, but hopefully some of these ideas will help make it a little less stressful.

Thank you for your service.

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8 Ways to Address Struggles at School

October 28, 2014

By Maureen Powers

8 Ways to Address Struggles at School | A child cries at recess.

It is 5:30 PM and you are rushing to pick up your three-year-old. When you get to the classroom door, the teacher greets you and says, “He had another rough day today. He hit another child and left a mark.” You read the incident report and sign it. You begin to wonder if this is the right center for your child.

You sit across the breakfast table from your kindergartener and she whines for the fourth day in a row that she has a stomachache and doesn’t want to go to school. You suspect she isn’t really sick and have made her go to school all week but you are still concerned. What could be making her not want to go to school?

Do any of these concerns sound familiar? If so, you are not alone. Children often tell us what they are experiencing through their behavior. In both of these situations, contact the classroom teacher in order to get a well-rounded picture of the situation. Then use these eight tips to address your child’s struggle and help him or her overcome it.

The first thing to remember is to stay calm and be objective. If you are angry or defensive, it will take longer for you to get answers. Give yourself time to collect your thoughts. Make sure you can discuss exactly what you are concerned about: “Matthew has been getting two or three incident reports per week,” or “Kaylee has been saying she does not want to come to school and is complaining of stomachaches.”

Approach the teacher at a good time. Teachers are busiest at pick-up and drop-off times. These are not the times for an extended conversation. Call and leave a message, or tell the teacher you would like a meeting and leave your phone number and e-mail as well as the best times to reach you.

Prepare your questions ahead of time. Be direct and specific. What happens before and after the hitting? Have there been any major changes in the classroom? Does your child ask for frequent passes to the bathroom or the nurse? Does your child often ask for help?

Work as a team. You both want what is best for your child.

Share your child’s likes and dislikes. You know your child best. You know what motivates your child, what he or she enjoys or detests. In-depth knowledge about your child may be the key to supporting him or her at school.

Be open to suggestions. Allow the teacher to share with you how your child is at school. Children can behave differently in different situations. Be open to new ways of looking at your child.

Ask for ways you can help your child at home. If you don’t understand a concept, ask the teacher to show you how the concept is taught at school. What words are used?

Make a plan. Be sure you leave the meeting with a clear idea of what each of you will be doing to support your child at school and at home.

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5 Ways to Address Bullying

October 15, 2014

By Sunny Chico

5 Ways to Address Bullying | A teen son sits glumly while his parents argue, modeling negative behavior.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and while I’m saddened that this issue even exists, I’m glad that we have the month to focus on preventing this terrible behavior that affects our children so deeply.

As parents, one of the first ways to address this problem is to think about what values we model at home. We must demonstrate how to communicate respectfully, whether it’s with our children, our partners, or with our own family and friends. We must also remember that the behaviors we allow in the home are behaviors that our children will practice out in the world. While this awareness can help us guide and shape our children in a way that can prevent bullying later in life, we can’t always prevent it at first. All we can do is deal with it as best as we know how.

If you ever learn that your child is bullying or being bullied:

  1. Talk to your child. Try to understand the situation.
  2. Seek assistance from the teacher. Find out what the teacher has observed and what he or she recommends.
  3. Review the school bullying policy. Many schools are legally obligated to follow their stated bullying policy exactly as written.
  4. Work with the school to make an action plan. Determine what steps will be taken, what the ideal outcomes are, and when to assess progress.
  5. Sometimes, it may be best to call the other child’s parents and say, “I need your help.” You should make this discussion as positive as possible, and not angry or negative. Let them know what is happening. Tell them, “My son told me about this today, and I was wondering if I could seek your help with it.” 

We all want the best for our children and want to protect them from any pain or heartbreak, but so often the best protection—and prevention—is to be a positive role model for them.

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7 Ways to Maximize Your Parent-Teacher Conferences

September 22, 2014

By Kevin Rutter

7 Ways to Maximize Your Parent-Teacher Conferences | A teacher stands in front of his chalkboard full of algebraic equations.

In my 15-year teaching career, I have had countless parent conferences. Here are seven tips for parents to make the most out of this time with teachers.

  1. Block off time to attend. Schools book time for parent-teacher conferences months in advance. Find information on this date on the school’s website or call the main office. Knowing early can help reduce conflicts with your work schedule.
  2. Ask about the format of the conference. Some schools, due to their size, hold group conferences with parents. This is great if you just want to meet your child’s teachers and know what they are teaching, but one-on-one time for individual student concerns may not be available. You may have to make an appointment to have a one-on-one chat.
  3. Attend. Even if you are very happy with your student’s academic progress, teachers, and school, make it a priority to attend parent-teacher conference night. It is very reassuring for teachers to know that parents are active participants in their student’s education and attending sends a message to your child that what happens at school is important.
  4. Review your child’s grades with him or her prior to the conference. Use the report cards that the school sends home or log in to your school’s grading system. Ask your student to explain the grade he or she is receiving in each course. Write down any questions you may have.
  5. Have a game plan. Time is usually scarce at parent-teacher conferences so prioritize which teachers you would like to see and have your questions ready. If you need help communicating, schools usually have a volunteer group or staff members willing to translate. Do not be afraid to ask; the most important thing is for you to get your questions answered. Sometimes important items are lost in translation if you rely on your student to mediate.
  6. Remember that the teacher is your partner and a trained expert in educating children. You are both working hard to make sure your student is as successful as he or she can be. Be open to the teacher’s suggestions and how he or she is teaching your child. Teaching strategies evolve and how you were taught a particular subject might be different from what the current research tells us about how children learn best.
  7. Commit to an action plan to help your student improve. This plan might include checking over homework for the overall level of understanding or completion, or requesting that the teacher send email updates on behavior or missing assignment completion.

Parent-teacher conferences are a very important time for you to get feedback on your student’s academic and social progress. By attending and being prepared to maximize this opportunity, you will demonstrate support for your child, the teacher(s), and the school.

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5 Steps to Start Freshman Year Right

August 20, 2014

By Kevin Rutter

5 Steps to Start Freshman Year Right | High school students walk through the hallway at school.

High school can be a big adjustment with a new building, teachers, rules, and fellow classmates. In recent years school administrators have recognized this challenge and put supports in place to assist you and your student in making the transition a smooth one. Here are my top five tips for making the first year of high school a successful one.

  1. Register for and participate in an orientation program. Many schools offer week-long programs for incoming students so that they can begin the process of learning about how to get around the building, where to find support, what the dress code entails, etc. This is a great opportunity for your teen to get acclimated before the entire student body shows up, bells are ringing, and the teachers are giving assignments. In lieu of a formal orientation program, you can stop by the counseling office during registration and ask for a tour of the building with your student and any guidance they might have for new students.
  2. Sign your student up for a sport or club. High schools offer a wide array of extra-curricular activities. Get your student involved in one or more. Activities provide a context to meet new friends and build collaborative skills. Studies also show that students in sports or clubs perform better in the classroom and are more engaged with their schools. 
  3. Check out the school’s website. Every high school has a website that has loads of information. Take the time to browse it with your teen. You may find programs or opportunities that you were not aware of. Additionally, once you know your student’s schedule, you can look at the homepage of your student’s teachers. Usually teachers have brief biographies, course syllabi, and their school email address posted. Look at these so you can reinforce class expectations at home. 
  4. Send an introductory email to your student’s new teachers. The teachers work directly with your student every day. Send them a quick email with a brief introduction and your contact information. This small action will open up a line of communication so that behavior and performance issues can be addressed immediately. As a teacher, I would also appreciate knowing how to get in touch with you and that you are an active supporter of your teen’s education. 
  5. Encourage and make time for your student to try new things. High school is a very important time for your teen’s social and academic growth. He or she must be given time to explore interests and try things for the first time, which will help your student develop a sense of self and learn what he or she might be good at after school. Give your student the support and time needed to do so.
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