10 tips to be a better parent ... from a school principal
Teachers can often see from where children’s anxieties or difficult behaviour stems
‘At school we try to set an example of politeness and consideration. If children tell their classmates to f**k off, they are not learning this from us.’ Photograph: istock
Welcome to the new school year, maybe the new school. As a school principal, I want to get on with all our families. Sometimes, though, we see the fallout of unwise parenting. We look at some children’s anxieties or difficult behaviour and we have an idea where it comes from. Mums and dads have learned their own foibles from their parents, so I would like to make a few suggestions about parenting, on behalf of schools … and children.
1 Your children love you and look up to you
They copy what you do, so please set an example. If you act aggressively in everyday life, in the street or car park, that could be reflected in how your children behave – to their teachers, peers, or even to you.
At school we try to set an example of politeness and consideration. If children tell their classmates to f**k off, they are not learning this from us.
2 Please show your children you care about them
I’m not talking about “I love you” all over the place. When your 11-year-old gets into the car after school, please get off your phone – she wants to tell you about her day.
Please, ask her how it went, celebrate her successes, encourage her if she finds it difficult. Your child will do far better at school if she knows how important she is to you.
3 Your child needs sleep
Please ensure he goes to bed at a suitable time and take the devices out of the bedroom – do not let him stay on phones or tablets all night. Don’t buy your child the newest Xbox/PS4 game the week before his exams and then be surprised that he stays up all night to play it and bombs in the exam.
4 Feed your child well
Small children will experiment with food more if experimentation is normal at home. Breakfasts matter on school days, snacks and hydration are needed during the day. A good lunch is essential. Do not give your child a few quid to get something on the way to school. A bag of Doritos is not a meal. A packed lunch will be binned if your child doesn’t like it. If she says she just wasn’t hungry, contact the school: it may indicate something worrying – but it may not.
5 Things do go wrong
We expect you to tell us if you have concerns and we expect to have to deal with all sorts of issues, so don’t let things fester until you’re angry. Communication can be slow – but seriously, would you like your child’s teacher to be checking his email instead of teaching your child? When something goes wrong please don’t shout down the phone, or cause a scene in reception. Schools want to put matters right but your issue may just not be the most pressing thing at that moment.
6 Your child will probably be bullied at some point
This is the reality. This doesn’t mean the school is unsafe. Kids can be horrible to one another. Don’t issue threats on behalf of your child. It’s a bad idea to get into a feud with the other child’s parents.
Reassure your child and support the school to resolve it with both children in the room. Encourage your child to be kind, not bear a grudge, even if you think they were 100 per cent the victim, and to stand up for their friends.
7 Question the stories
Don’t believe everything your child tells you about school – even stories that are corroborated by other children. They know how to press your buttons, and how to deflect blame from themselves. Don’t explode and promise blood. Calmly find out from school what happened. The minute children learn that you will happily make the school’s life hell rather than theirs, they will become very difficult to manage. You will regret this.
8 Slagging us off on social media is a bad idea
It tends to spiral. First, whatever you’re typing may not actually be true and may lead to threats or violence, and in some cases you may be visited by the police. Second, it divides home and school – which hardly helps resolve the issue. Don’t comment on threads by other parents or children. You are damaging your credibility.
9 Social media for children can be toxic
Children should be 13 or older to be on Facebook. Inappropriate advances are frighteningly common – you have a responsibility to reduce the risks to your children – and it’s not only girls.
The mental health dangers from online bullying are huge. Kids can be horrible to one another and doing it via an app amplifies the effect and minimises the responsibility of the perpetrator. You will need to delete the app being used. You may need to block particular people, even your child’s “friends”.
10 Support the school
If you support your child’s refusal to do work at home, if you don’t believe what teachers say about how he or she works in lessons; if you find excuses for the things they do, or don’t do, there will come a time when this backfires on you. Eventually your child will behave like this at home.
They might not suddenly want to work hard just because it’s exam. It is far easier to support the school from the start and find a way to get your child into good habits, even if they hate it, and even if this is difficult for you. It’s worth it.
Remember: it’s not personal. Schools are not singling out any child for closer attention than others. We look forward to working with you as partners.