It’s that time of year when those of us with school-aged kids are immersed in homework, activities, and the trials and tribulations of the elementary school social structure. This busy lifestyle and constant need for stimulation has made me realize that advice I was once given is actually true: parents need to spend more time with their children as they get older, not less. As a mom and a pediatrician, of course I know that babies and toddlers require a lot of time and attention. They need to be fed, changed, bathed, put to sleep for naps, put back to sleep in the middle of the night, and overall be constantly watched for safety hazards. When I tell parents of babies and toddlers that my kids are (just about) 8 and 10, they say, “Those are great ages.” I know what they mean — they can bathe themselves, go to the bathroom themselves, and even use the toaster and microwave on their own. However, they have just as much, if not more, need for supervision and parental involvement.
Here are some examples of what happens when we embrace that independent spirit. The few times my children let my husband and I sleep in, they have been known to make their own breakfast. Unfortunately, their menu has included Halloween candy, nachos and cookies, amongst other options. Also, they have been known to go into their rooms at 7:30 like we ask when Nana babysits, but when Mommy and Daddy come home at 9:30 (past bedtime) one is awake and on the computer (curse you, Minecraft!) and the other is awake and on the iPad (curse you, My Little Pony!). My enterprising daughter has also been known to go off to her room with the school directory to call everyone she knows for a playdate (I apologize, parents, if you received a cryptic message from my cell).
Kids this age are also quite capable of talking and voicing their opinions. Sometimes my day might sound like this: “Mom, watch me,” “I don’t like anything we have for breakfast,” “Mom, look what I made!” “Can I have a playdate? I’m bored,” “I’m hungry; can you make us food?”, “Can we go to Target NOW so I can get that toy I earned from chores?” “Can’t you just help me clean my room?”, “But I showered 2 days ago!” “Dad lets us keep the TV on until 8, that’s not fair!” Mix all nicely with a sprinkling of potty humor, and you get the idea.
In all seriousness, what school-aged kids need is a different kind of protection from the safety hazards they face. There are so many outside influences that parental involvement is needed so that ours can be the loudest voice and most important influence. School-aged kids need to know that they can open up and tell you anything, like about the kid at school who is being a bully. They need you to tell them and model how we treat each other (unlike the modeling of Cartoon Network). They need to hear constantly that it’s not ok to use the curse words they hear in pop music (unlike the modeling from Pandora and You Tube). It’s important not to take for granted the independence. As parents, you need to know what they are hearing, saying and doing. Continue to engage them, play with them, get them outside, and watch their shows with them.
Get involved now, because when they are teenagers, it is going to be much more difficult. At least that’s what I’m told.