This Is What Every School Counselor Wishes You Knew
Learning and development happens outside of the classroom, too.
Every child needs excellent teachers in their corner. But a solid educational team can’t be limited to the classroom—the support system has to be more varied than textbooks and lesson plans. Enter: school counselors. They provide academic guidance, yes, but also personal, social, and emotional support. In today’s day and age, where stress levels are higher than ever, these invaluable professionals are essential. We spoke with school counselors from all over the country about what they wish parents understood better—these are their top pieces of advice.
It’s okay to let your children fail.
Though it’s natural to want to protect your kids from missteps at all costs, it’s fine to let them fail a little—especially in elementary and middle school, when their grades don’t go on a permanent record.
“This is the time to let kids figure out time management and study skills,” says Christine MacInnis, a school counselor at Orchard Hills School in Irvine, California. “They can also learn how to advocate for themselves in the classroom before it becomes all too real in high school.”
Never request one teacher over another.
Unless your child had a particularly bad experience with a teacher, MacInnis says that parents should not request a specific teacher for their child. “Don’t rely on the parent gossip chain regarding information about teachers,” she notes. “The one teacher your best friend’s son disliked could very well be your child’s favorite.”
One decision won’t dictate where your child goes to college.
Society’s obsession with getting into “good “colleges has clearly gotten out of hand. (Look no further than the recent “Operation Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal.) But, as MacInnis explains, one decision won’t make or break your child’s chances of getting into a great university, especially when they’re young.
“I hear even kindergarten parents worry about future high school scheduling. Stop the madness!” she says. “There is a college for every child if you look beyond the boundaries of the six named universities, like Harvard or Yale. So please stop worrying.”
An adjustment period at the beginning of the year is totally normal.
The relative lack of structure and bedtimes that come with summer make it a fun season for kids. But that means going back to school may not always be an easy transition.
“Parents should know that it is okay—even healthy and normal—for their child to have a hard time getting back into school mode,” says Jennifer Newberry, a school counselor at Bennett Day School in Chicago. “When a child is having difficulty adjusting, it’s crucial that parents don’t try to fix everything for them, but, instead, teach their child to be a resourceful problem-solver.”
Routines are hugely important.
One way to combat the transition challenges from the summer to the school year is to get your child on a routine. “Implementing a schedule can help your child feel much more structure,” says Lauren Cook, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Pepperdine University and author of The Sunny Side Up: Celebrating Happiness. “Even though they might not know how to vocalize that they feel stressed, having a plan each day is a wonderful way to set normalcy for a new school year.”
So is asking open-ended questions.
It’s easy to simply ask your child, “How was your day?” But doing so only invites one-word responses (“Fine,” “good,” “whatever”). Rather, you should ask open-ended questions like, “Tell me about something exciting that happened today,” or “What surprised you about today?”
“By asking open-ended questions, your child will be encouraged to elaborate more on their experience at school,” says Cook. “This allows you to connect with them on a greater level while also becoming aware if your child is having challenges.”
Encourage a hobby.
Kids do well when their schedule is diversified, says Cook. “Rather than just go to and from school, invite your student to follow what they’re passionate about. This might include trying soccer, ballet, or painting, for example,” she explains. “Starting the school year with some extracurricular activities allows them multiple opportunities for new experiences and new friends.”
Make sure your child feels heard and validated.
Whether they’re excited about the upcoming science project or school play, or have anxiety surrounding tests, soccer tryouts, or being invited to the fall dance, it’s important that children are given the space to talk about the things they’re most passionate about.
“Children sometimes feel that they have to keep their fears to themselves, but as parents, let them know that having fears is a normal part of life,” says Ronica Arnold Branson, PhD, the coordinator of the School Counseling Program at Jackson State University in Jackson, Mississippi. “It’s healthier to express their emotions and not to keep them bottled up.”
Stress that kindness is key.
Your child is bound to run into some personality-clashing problems at school. But in times like those, it’s essential to stress level-headed solutions.
“Parents should let their children know that it’s important to maintain a calm head in chaotic situations,” says Branson. “Remind them that their response often can determine the outcome—that violence and anger do not solve conflict, and that a kind response (or just walking away) can solve a problem or extinguish a flame before it turns into a forest fire. Kindness can often make the difference between a conflict and a bigger controversy.”
Let them know that if they see something, they should say something.
Many students have witnessed bullying or have been bullied themselves, but haven’t said a word about it. Parents should encourage their children to share with their teacher or counselor if they’ve seen or experienced that kind of behavior.
“Bullies often maintain their position of control because they’re often not reported,” says Branson. “It’s important to let students know that they have a voice—and that their voice does matter. Let them know that sharing this information can help to stop the negative cycle.”
Establish a relationship with your child’s teacher.
While you don’t want to constantly pester your child’s teacher about every test score, you should absolutely open up dialogue with them. That way, you can understand how to best support your child at home.
“I encourage parents to have ongoing communication with their child’s teachers to make sure they don’t fall behind in their assignments and keep up with their grades through the school year,” says Barron Whited, a school counselor at Agora Cyber Charter School in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Guiding your child through the academic year can be tricky. So, if things get rocky, ask your school counselor for a helping hand. “Yes, we’re busy, but that doesn’t mean we’re too busy to assist you,” MacInnis says. “At the high school level, have both you and your child meet with the counselor once together. I remember those parents who make an effort to get to know me!”
Soak it all in
Your kids aren’t going to be at home with you forever, so appreciate the time you have with them at every age. “Relax and enjoy your child at all their fun stages,” MacInnis says. “It all goes so fast.” And for more on education today, here are 27 Ways High School Has Gotten So Much More Horrifying Since You Were a Teen.
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