In less than three months, my oldest will be graduating from middle school, and my youngest will be graduating from grade school. It's the end of an era. My kids are growing up.
Even scarier is the speed at which everything happened. Those nine years seem to have gone by so quickly, and the four years I have left till The Pea graduates high school will pass even more quickly. It will go by in the blink of an eye, and I'm actually starting to panic.
I recently read an article written by a parent to high schoolers, giving advice to parents of young kids. I agree with everything she says. The gist of it is Don't Sweat the Small Stuff. Cherish Each Moment. Looking back at my kids' grade school years, I want to add five more pieces of advice to the list. For all parents of grade schoolers, here is what I've learned:
Let them be kids. Don't stress about the pacifier, the thumb sucking, the baby blanket. If your nine year old wants to play with dolls even though her friends have moved on to ear piercing and hair extensions, don't rush her. If your ten year old wants to play tag even though the popular boys only play basketball, it's okay. They won't be kids forever.
No need to push them away so soon. Everyone wants their child to learn how to be independent, but that doesn't mean you have to restrict your time with them. Don't feel guilty about co-sleeping with your baby. Don't feel guilty about staying with your nervous sleeper until she falls asleep. Be patient with them when they have nightmares and want to creep into your bed. Cherish the times when they wake you up early to snuggle in your bed. Don't feel guilty if your child won't let you leave his preschool or kindergarten classroom. Stay a while! They'll let go when they're ready.
Let them make mistakes. If you want to teach your children independence, take a hands-off approach to schoolwork. Don't help them with homework unless they ask. Don't correct their homework. Don't do their school projects. It's okay if they get less than perfect grades in grade school, really. Grade school is a great time to learn how to develop good work habits -- and even more important, to learn how to deal with frustration and failure, how to find a way to work through setbacks. The same goes for afterschool activities like music, art, and sports. Avoid interfering with coaches and tutors and instructors -- you're there to support and encourage, not to interfere!
Give them life skills. If you want to teach your children independence, then teach them practical things. Teach them how to fry an egg, boil pasta, change a light bulb, hammer in a nail, screw in a screw, fix a leaky faucet, sew a button, clean the bathroom, run a load of laundry, wash a car, change a bike tire. Fifth graders are old enough to know how to do all those things and more.
It's okay to take them out of school for a few days for travel. I'll probably get in trouble with my school district for saying this, but travel is a great way to broaden a child's perspective and encourage him to try new things. Traveling is so much cheaper and less crowded in the off season -- aka when school is in session -- that many parents choose to travel during the school year. I'm all for it. If you're going to do it, do it while your child is in grade school, when attendance does not affect their grades!