Parenting Help

New School Year…Same Two Rules

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Tried-and-True Guidelines to Help Your Kids Thrive
David R Smith

Kids chaotically scrambling in every direction. More masks than a gas attack in the trenches. People yelling, others pointing, cars honking. Had I stumbled into World War 3? An alien invasion?

Nope. Just the drop-off line on the first day of school.

I know, I know. . .some of you are actually jealous and thinking, “I wish I could have dropped off my kids at school! My kids are distance learning all over the house!”

You’re not alone.

The reality is. . .whether it’s in-person, online, homeschool, or some sort of combination. . .we have to figure out how to survive the fall semester…without falling apart. In addition to the standard pressures that accompany the beginning of a new school year, we also have to deal with the lingering effects of the coronavirus. That means masks must be worn at all times. Social distancing is required, even in the cafeteria. And Plexiglas, hand sanitizer, and cleaning agents are everywhere.

This academic year is a particularly interesting one for our family. Like everyone else, our family is dealing with the threat of COVID-19, but our son also started his freshman year of high school. (Geez, I’m old….) Knowing the challenges and temptations Josiah would face in high school, we’ve been doing our best to prepare him for this moment since the day he entered Kindergarten.

Year after year, my wife and I have continually put two expectations (or “rules”) in place to guide him through the school-related aspects of his adolescence:

  • Be the most respectful kid in your class.
  • Be the hardest working kid in your class.

That’s it. Really.

Our two rules – or whatever you want to call them – are intentionally broad for a reason. Like the Constitution, they can be applied across a wide spectrum of experiences and circumstances. For example, we won’t have to get sidelined with behavioral issues if Josiah is bent on being the most respectful kid in the room. A teacher should never need to tell him to put his phone away in class, nor should his friend have to experience the pain of his gossip if he’s aiming for the title of most respectful.

On the second point, we don’t have to get bogged down in arguments about grades; if he’s the hardest working kid in his class, good grades should be a mere by-product. When it comes to athletics, he doesn’t have to score the most points, get the most rebounds, or have the fastest times…but he does have to give his coach – and his team – the best effort. Our joke is that he has to sweat the most!

These two rules are simple and they’ve never changed. Josiah has them memorized because he knows his actions and his attitude will be evaluated based on them.

I’m not claiming that this is the only way to raise your kids. I’ve got friends who rewarded their kids for good grades, and I’ve had friends who used behavior charts for their kids who were prone to trouble. I’ve seen those work. But my wife and I like to keep it simple, and Josiah seems to like it as well. (Now if we can just get him to help with the laundry to help us clean all those sweaty basketball clothes!)

What about your family?

Do you have rules in place to help your kids thrive in school…and beyond? If so, what are they? If not, why not?

Setting Expectations
If the idea of developing simple, effective standards for your kids appeals to you, here are several suggestions to help guide youas you establish guidelines with them.

  1. Develop the expectations together. Yes, the standards are certainly important…but so is the process of developing them as a family. On that note, you should resist the urge of simply stealing someone else’s rules…no matter how effective they might seem. Nor should you use tonight’s dinner to announce your new “Decrees, Declarations, and Demands.” Instead, sit down together, talk about values, expectations, and goals – whatever you feel is most important for your family! – and then forge a few agreed-upon parameters that will help your kids succeed. Make it a dialogue, not a monologue. This process helps generate buy-in…and the buy-in helps generate compliance.
  2. Evaluate based on those standards. You’ve developed a “metric,” now use it. Sure, this means you may have to ask some tough questions from time to time, but nothing will undermine your efforts like turning a blind eye to unmet expectations. If your kids don’t believe you take the standards seriously, neither will they. You’ll want to have regular check-ins with your kids about their progress (or needs) so that there are no nasty surprises. Remind them what your family agreed was most important – and why – and then encourage them in their pursuits. You might also want to ask if you can offer any assistance or help along the way. Your ongoing, supportive evaluation will give your kids the feedback they need.
  3. Reward/Discipline accordingly. This is where the rubber meets the road. We need to lovingly reward our kids when they honor the expectations…and we need to lovingly discipline them when they don’t. This is how God leads His people, isn’t it? Moses told the ancient Israelites they would be “blessed” if they obeyed the Lord, and he also told them they would be “cursed” if they disobeyed the Lord. Now, your reward doesn’t need to be an all-expense-paid vacation to Europe, but neither should your discipline be a one-month stay in the dungeon you call a basement. In fact, it’s best to get input from your kids on this piece, as well. We often say to Josiah, “You have been a blessing to us, your friends, and your teachers this semester. How can we be a blessing to you in return?”

Hopefully, you see how this entire process can be applied to your kids’ lives well beyond their school years. Sure, your efforts will help them thrive in class this year, but you’re also showing them the benefits of self-discipline that will serve them down the road. Get to it! It could be your kids’ best year!

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, DavidRSmith.org David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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