Five ways to support your child in the New Year

I hope you each enjoyed a restful Holiday Break. As the parent of two college students, I really enjoyed having our entire family back together again. We marvel at how well the faculty and staff of Colorado Academy prepared my girls for college and how they are thriving. For my son, who is an Upper School Senior, this holiday marked the end of the first half of the college admission process. His applications are in, and he made it through with great support from CA’s College Counseling Office. For my wife Thomassen and me, it was fun to be with our children, look at old family photos, reminisce about favorite family moments, and look happily to our future.

As I reflected about those moments over this vacation, I found myself wishing I could go back in time. Whenever I walk through the Lower School and Middle School hallways, I miss those days as a parent. Sure, my kids faced challenges. There were inevitable social situations that were tough to navigate. They learned about the ups and downs of friendships. They confronted academic challenges. But, along the way, they had mentors and teachers who supported their growth and learning. They emerged with lifelong friendships from their days at CA, as well as lifelong memories, newfound passions, and both confidence and resilience. There were adults who, at the right moments, invited them to try new things and engage in new experiences. Admittedly, there were times when I had questions about how this whole child-rearing process would work out. But I also had confidence in my children, and faith that Thomassen and I were making some right decisions along the way.

For lots of students and parents, those first holidays back together after going away to college can mean navigating some new territory. College kids are used to operating on their own as adults, and returning home makes everyone wonder what set of rules to play by. Also, the winter months for students of any age can be tough. The days are shorter and darker. There is a long stretch of hard work between the New Year in January and Spring Break in March. It is a time when mental health experts report increases in depression and anxiety. But it is also the heart of the school year, when a lot of learning takes place. There is still a lot of time left before June arrives, and Dr. Davis hands out diplomas, so I thought I might share some parenting tips that we found helpful. As the saying about children goes, “The days are long, but the years are short.” For those CA parents with younger children, this will all go faster than you possibly can imagine. As we try to make the best of these short years, here are some ways that parents can help complement the work we are doing at CA and set your child up for success in life.

Make your child’s health and wellness a priority

The rates of suicide, anxiety, and depression among young people are climbing. This is a topic that I hear discussed at every national conference or workshop I attend. While your child’s academic success is important, it should be low on your priority list as parents. At a school like CA, you can trust that there are teachers who are role modeling the kind of intellectual curiosity you want your child to gain. We can guarantee that there will be the kind of academic challenge that will prepare your child for college.

I remember when one of my girls had a tough time getting her homework done in Middle School. I remember saying to her, “I am going to stop asking you about your homework, as I don’t want conversations about homework to be the sole basis of our relationship.” I trusted her to understand her responsibilities. Guess what? She figured it out. I shifted my focus to making sure that all of our kids felt supported and loved. Beyond what you do to remind your kids every day that you love them, know there are counselors in each division ready to respond to your questions and concerns.

Help kids get sleep

Read the research. A lack of sleep contributes to depression, obesity, and attention issues. The American Academy of Pediatrics has the following guidelines:

    • “Children 3 to 5 years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
    • Children 6 to 12 years of age should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
    • Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.”

I know for older students that this can be hard. But, it is about establishing patterns and schedules that allow this. Limiting screen time is related to this goal. The light from most devices can affect sleep. Exposure to the blue light from screens can disrupt sleep patterns. Our kids did not have devices in Lower School. When they had devices in Middle School, we kept our kids’ phones and tablets out of their bedrooms. By late high school, we caved to reality. I do think establishing some boundaries around screen times and schedule helped with sleep. Good sleep will help young children better regulate themselves, and it will certainly help student learning.

Eat together as a family

Again, these years will fly by. Why not enjoy every moment? In the hustle and bustle of the school year, it can be hard to pull this off, but having time to sit down and converse is so important. By being curious, you can learn a lot from your kids. You can model the important skill of having a conversation—something that I think has been affected negatively by the rise of texting as a means of communication. Most important, it is a time to reinforce your values and ensure that children know they are loved and connected.

Don’t overschedule

This is related to all of my earlier recommendations. Most American parents believe they need to have their children in constant activities. It is not always because we want our children to have fun, but because we as a society believe that playing sports and pursuing other activities will give our kids some competitive advantage. As my grandfather would say, “That’s bushhog!” There is evidence from a variety of sources about how overscheduling children can have negative side effects.

To be sure, I think it is important to have an activity that a child does once or twice a week that allows them to be exposed to new things. But the gains after that are quite limited. When my girls hit Middle School, we stopped doing any outside club sports and did activities solely through CA. I can’t tell you how great it was to get our weekends back as a family. And, it didn’t affect my child’s athletic future. One of my girls was a four-year Varsity letter winner for CA Girls Lacrosse, was team Captain in her Senior year, and contributed to four state championships. She’s Captain of the CU Women’s Club Field Hockey program and is having a blast. If your child has a passion for a sport, then it can be great to encourage that love. But I encourage you to examine the impact that it can have on your child and to question if it is truly in their best interest. Our entire curriculum at CA, from K-12, is intended to expose students to amazing and deep experiences in the athletics, the arts, and other co-curriculars.

Be accountable

No child or human being is perfect. We all make mistakes. Being clear about your expectations for their behavior is important. I remember a father at a school where I used to teach. He had a great line about his parenting philosophy: “I want to pass on to my kids memories and values.” He went out of his way to create and provide experiences for his children that would give them fond and positive memories of their childhood. And, he also spoke to his children about the kind of people he wanted them to be. He modeled exceptional behavior. And, he held his kids accountable. When one got in trouble at my school and faced disciplinary consequences, that father understood the importance of that learning moment. Again, your time is limited to help mold your children into noble beings. Avail yourself of that.

I hope this can be helpful. At Colorado Academy, there are so many opportunities for your child to learn and grow. It is an intense school, and there is no doubt that our high expectations and the talented peer group that exists can add pressure. I know our teachers are constantly trying to support students and de-emphasize obsession with grades. As educators, we know students learn best when they are not under pressure. You can help as parents by doing all that you can to provide a loving, supportive home. I know all of our parents are trying their best. We are here to support you. Thanks for being part of CA and its community, and best wishes for a healthy and happy 2020.